Integrated programs of academic support and early research are essential to developing identity as a scientist and increasing persistence of underrepresented students. Integrated undergraduate development programs are organized and conducted by the Emory College Center for Science Education (ECCSE). ECCSE promotes access, interest and participation in STEM careers, by supporting and enhancing programs in the college, the graduate school, and in the health sciences. ECCSE programs supported by Emory College and grants from HHMI and NSF have enhanced the success of over 1500 UR undergraduate students. Since 1995 the Hughes Undergraduates Excelling in Science (HUES) Program has provided guidance and support for under-represented minorities interested in science and science careers. HUES has two components: a week-long Summer Institute preceding the freshman year, followed by various activities to support participants throughout their years at Emory. During the 2013-2014 academic year, there were a total of 84 UR incoming freshmen along with 56 upper-class peer mentors that participated in HUES. More than 60% of HUES alumni continued to graduate or professional school. HUES participants have significantly higher GPAs and persistence compared to matched Emory students.
ECCSE supports collaborations between Oxford and Emory, providing faculty development of best practices in course design, assessment, and inclusive instruction. We support a pre-freshman bridge program, Getting a Leg Up at Emory (GLUE) that has served 198 prospective STEM students since 2012 (60% UR), building key critical thinking, campus resource discovery and learning community skills. Participants are evaluated and interviewed by Emory/Oxford faculty to determine scientific ability and fit for various disciplines. To date, 22% of GLUE participants have participated in our “Introduction to Research” course, semester and summer research experiences, our HUES program and our NIH funded Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) program. Approximately 75% of GLUE UR participants are interest in Ph.D. programs in biomedical sciences. Of our 2012 cohort (n=32) over 50% of program participants have declared a STEM major and our 2013 and 2014 cohorts are active in extracurricular research opportunities and continue to act as mentors to new cohorts.
Emory College students have multiple opportunities for research and many departments sponsor research for credit or work-study opportunities. The Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory (SIRE) Program since 2004 has placed 986 first and second year students (13% UR) in research projects in all disciplines, 70% of these in the sciences. This year the SIRE/HHMI Partners program assisted 121 (19.8% UR) students in selecting a lab, reading relevant literature and developing lab, analytical and communication skills (graduate fellows receive an additional stipend for conducting these sessions). Undergraduates then developed a proposal for semester or summer research with the lab they choose as part of the program.
Finally, the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at Emory (SURE), established in 1990, has served over 1660 students (30% UR). SURE program participants reported significant learning gains in scientific-focused ethics and laboratory skills and increases in their interest in pursuing an MD/PhD degree or PhD in a scientific field.
In conclusion, we report on the use of early interventions and research programs to aid students in successfully completing a degree in the STEM disciplines. In a recent survey of alumni who have completed their undergraduate academic degree and participated in one or more of these early interventions report 81% are employed in a STEM career (n=145), with 58% of respondents currently participating in scientific research, 81% are satisfied with their position and over 80% plan to remain in a STEM career over the next 10 years. These data show the clear value of these early academic and research events that fosters identity student as a scientist, academic success and graduate school entry.
Closing the Social Class Achievement Gap in Undergraduate Biology Courses with Values Affirmation Interventions
Yoi Tibbetts, Elizabeth Canning, and Judith Harackiewicz—all of University of Wisconsin-Madison
Objective: We will discuss intervention research designed to improve performance and persistence for first-generation students who typically struggle in undergraduate biology courses. We investigate the mechanisms through which values affirmation interventions may help first-generation college students achieve a greater sense of belonging in college courses, perform better, and continue in the field of biology.
Theoretical framework: Achievement gaps for underrepresented ethnic minority and low SES students are prevalent in American education, and it is critically important to develop interventions to close these gaps. Recently, a series of randomized field experiments has produced striking effects on student motivation and achievement. The values affirmation intervention, in which students reflect on important personal values, is a brief exercise integrated into classroom curriculum that has led to significant effects on academic performance (Cohen et al., 2006; Miyake et al., 2010). This social psychological intervention has proven to be particularly effective for minority students and for women in physics, but no prior research has attempted to close the gap for first-generation students, a population that accounts for nearly a fifth of college students. When first-generation students write about their most important values, they may bolster themselves against perceived identity threats, whether those threats are due to stereotypes about their group or a mismatch between personal and institutional norms/values. Indeed, recent research suggests that values-affirmation interventions promote a sense of social belonging or academic fit and this may be particularly effective for first-generation students who endorse more interdependent motives for attending college and who may experience a lower sense of academic belonging. Focusing on important values may help first-generation students cope with stress and uncertainty about their background, and promote more effective performance in classes.
Methods and results: We tested a values-affirmation intervention in a double-blind randomized experiment with 798 U.S. students (154 first-generation) in an introductory biology course for majors. The brief writing exercise was administered in laboratory sections of the course, early in the semester, and again in the 5th week of the course. For first-generation students, values affirmation significantly improved final course grades and retention in the second course in the biology sequence, as well as overall GPA for the semester. This brief intervention narrowed the achievement gap between first-generation and continuing generation students for course grades by 50% and increased retention in a critical gateway course by 20%. A three-year follow-up revealed that first-generation students in the VA condition continued to earn higher grades in classes taken after the semester in which values-affirmation was implemented. In our ongoing research, we are examining the mechanisms through which this intervention worked, focusing on the content of students’ writing.
Significance: Our results indicate that the values affirmation intervention can be scaled up to large enrollment science classes and can help first-generation students. Our results suggest that educators can expand the pipeline for first-generation students to continue studying in the biosciences with psychological interventions.
Closing Achievement Gaps with Utility Value Interventions
Judith Harackiewicz, Stacy Priniski, Elizabeth Canning, and Yoi Tibbetts—all of University of Wisconsin-Madison
Objective: Many students start college intending to pursue a career in biosciences, but too many minority and first-generation students abandon this goal because they struggle in introductory biology. Keeping students interested in college science courses is crucial to keeping them on track for careers in biomedical science.
Theoretical background: One way to develop interest in activities is to find meaning and value in those activities, and one type of task value that has proven to be a powerful predictor of interest and performance is utility value (UV). Recent research indicates that it is possible to promote perceived utility value with simple interventions that ask students to write about the relevance of course topics to their own life or to the life of a family member or close friend. These interventions work best for students with a history of poor performance. For example, Hulleman et al. (2010) found that a UV intervention promoted interest in a psychology class for students who had performed poorly on early exams, relative to a control group. We hypothesized that UV interventions might be particularly effective with minority and first-generation students who are uncertain about their background and preparation for college science courses.
Method and results: The utility value intervention was administered in a randomized field experiment in four semesters of an introductory college biology course. A total of 1040 students participated; 423 were majority continuing-generation students (Caucasian/Asian), 126 were minority continuing-generation (African-American/Hispanic/Native American), 427 were majority first-generation students, and 64 were minority first-generation students. This sample allowed us to evaluate the independent and interactive effects of generational and ethnic minority status. The achievement gap in this course was significant for both first-generation and minority students, and greatest for the minority first-generation students (compared to all other groups).
The experimental intervention consisted of three 500-word paper assignments, for credit, assigned during the second week of each of three 5-week units of the course. Students in the control condition wrote a summary of course material. Students in the UV conditions wrote essays describing the relevance of course material to their own lives and/or a letter describing the relevance of the material to the life of a close friend or family member. We found that the UV intervention significantly improved grades for all students, but had a particularly strong effect for minority first-generation students, relative to all other groups. These students have the “double challenge” of contending with both minority and first-generation status, and our results suggest that the UV intervention was most effective for the most challenged group.
Significance: Our results highlight the importance of supporting task values for at-risk students and further suggest the importance of considering the separate and combined effects of generational and ethnic minority status in designing effective interventions.