COSAM News Articles 2020 October How students relate to scientists impacts student retention: A $1 million NSF award funds a study to examine data literacy instruction with direct connection to STEM

How students relate to scientists impacts student retention: A $1 million NSF award funds a study to examine data literacy instruction with direct connection to STEM

Published: 10/13/2020

By: Maria Gebhardt

How a student perceives and relates to science role models can directly impact that student’s retention of the material.

That relationship can open doors to mentoring, academic opportunities and much more.

What about students that do not see a diverse array of professors like themselves in the classroom or the scientific community?

A joint project between Auburn University and Michigan State University examines this through an award funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) titled Diversifying and humanizing scientist role models to increase the impact of data literacy instruction on student interest and retention in STEM.

$1 million award

Six researchers across Auburn University and Michigan State University are collaborating on a project that develops biology class content featuring diverse scientists and assesses how different elements of those materials impact student learning. This work responds to the call to expose undergraduate students to counter-stereotypical images of scientists, which has the potential to narrow equity gaps and broaden participation in STEM.

“Our previous research shows a demographic mismatch between aspiring undergraduate scientists and those who are presented to our students in curricular materials such as textbooks,” Cissy Ballen, the lead investigator for the award explained. “Now, we are seeking to understand how humanized and diverse scientist role models affects student interest, engagement, and retention in STEM.”

They will accomplish this by experimentally varying the depth to which students engage with humanizing elements of diverse role models in order to determine which aspects drive the efficacy of quantitative classroom materials. NSF-funded the award through its Education and Human Resources strand in undergraduate education. The team consists of:

  • Cissy Ballen – assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University
  • Ash Zemenick – postdoc, Auburn University
  • Emily Driessen – doctoral student, Auburn University
  • Marjorie Weber – assistant professor of plant biology, Michigan State University
  • Elizabeth Schultheis – postdoc, Michigan State University
  • Melissa Driessen – postdoc, Michigan State University

The impact  

Data from a NSF-funded study, showed an increase in student’s handling of scientific practices and interest in scientific careers when that defining image of a scientific leader represents the students.

This study will increase the awareness of expertise in the field of biology from underrepresented groups. These scientific leaders will help to strengthen the student’s foundation and connection through diverse representatives.  

Testing in the classroom

Over three consecutive semesters in a random order, students in college classrooms across multiple institutional contexts will be provided with different types of information about these biological science experts through their biology curriculum. The students will be exposed to one of three different treatments. Auburn researchers will conduct a research study to investigate how diversifying and humanizing elements within quantitative reasoning instruction affects student interest, engagement, and retention in STEM. They will describe the role of diversifying and humanizing elements in promoting recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups.

“These tests will provide an opportunity to see how students relate and connect with scientists in the classroom that can encourage students to explore STEM careers,” said Zemenick.

This project will create classroom resources that increase both student interest and engagement with diverse role models in science.

Call for faculty in colleges and universities to participate

Faculty from colleges and universities across the nation are welcomed to participate in this study.

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