In nearly every science, math, and engineering field there is a significant falloff in participation by underrepresented minority (URM) students who fail to make the transition between undergraduate and graduate studies. The American Physical Society (APS) has realized that a professional society can erase this gap by acting as a national recruiter of URM physics students and connecting these individuals with graduate programs that are eager to a) attract motivated students to their program, b) increase domestic student participation, and c) improve the diversity of their program. In only two years the APS has placed enough students into graduate programs nationwide to effectively eliminate this achievement gap. The program has low costs, is well received among graduate programs, and has encouraged a number of universities to adopt best practices that improve their graduate admissions and retention. The structure is disciplinary specific, but can be adapted to other fields of study. This presentation will describe programmatic elements and present data that demonstrate the project’s effectiveness.
Re-assessing What Works-A Novel Approach to Measuring Efficacy and Early Findings from a Broad Intervention Partnership
Mark A. Lawson, Anna Woodcock, Anthony M. Johnson, P. Wesley Schultz, Richard McGee, and Steven M. Anderson—all of University of California, San Diego
A common theme of intervention programs that target the transition of underrepresented minority (URM) students from undergraduate to graduate study is to provide a training experience that exposes the participants to biomedical research and familiarizes them with the laboratory and scientific environment. It is expected that familiarizing students with practice of science encourages them to pursue biomedical research as a career, and evaluation of intervention programs is based on measurement of this particular outcome. Based on these assumptions, the Endocrine Society has developed a mentoring and intervention program MAP that partners minority-serving institutions with research-oriented institutions and a professional society to provide extensive mentoring and research training to prepare students for progression to post-baccalaureate and graduate study. This network leverages its community to improve training, mentorship, and career development. Based on a two-year model, Endocrine Society members recruit students from minority-serving institutions to participate in two summer research experiences. Participants attend the society annual meeting where they are introduced to peers and mentors, attend career development sessions, and are guided through the general meeting. Afterwards participants join a summer program at a partner research institution. In the second year participants again attend the meeting to present their previous summer’s work. They also act as peer mentors to new participants. In addition, trainees are encouraged to attend recruiting conferences such as SACNAS and ABRCMS, and are mentored through the graduate program application process.
The effectiveness of MAP is measured and evaluated using a novel dual quantitative and qualitative approach. The evaluation is designed to assess program outcomes and to uncover underlying mechanisms contributing to student success. The qualitative approach provides rich feedback from the students for program best practice and improvement via structured interviews and ethnographic data. The quantitative approach complements the qualitative evaluation with quantitative data. This research/evaluation approach features a longitudinal matched-control design to evaluate both the short and long-term impact of the program. Central to the evaluation, MAP students are matched with a group of non-MAP URM students who are equally talented and interested in a scientific research career and measured across time. Across three years we find significant differences in the scientific career interest trajectories of MAP and matched non-MAP students. The non-MAP students show a significant decline in intention to pursue a scientific research career across their undergraduate years. However, MAP students are buffered from this decline and retain high intentions of persisting on the scientific research career path.
This design allows us to answer questions about why programs like MAP are effective. Drawn from social psychological literature, we hypothesize that programs that are designed to develop lab skills and scientific self-efficacy, also have positive effects on students’ scientific identity, opportunities to fulfill communal (helping) goals, and resilience to stereotype threat. We find that these psychological outcomes are more powerful predictors of URM persistence in science than scientific skill and self-efficacy, and this is critical for the way we design and implement programs.
Defining the Quantitative and Computational Skills of Incoming Biology Students
Paul J. Overvoorde and Q6 Consortium—both of Macalester College
A number of recent national reports such as Vision and Change, Preparing Future Physicians, and BIO2010 make the case that a student’s quantitative and computational preparation correlates with persistence and success in the life sciences. Unfortunately, among the students who take the ACT entrance exam, only 43 percent achieve a score that indicates that they have a 50 percent changes of earning a grade of B or higher in their first college-level math class. More disconcerting is that only 17% of high school students with an expressed interest in a STEM is considered math proficient by these standards. A further complication comes from the challenge of getting students to transfer their understanding of mathematical concepts to other discipline-specific contexts. With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, faculty from Macalester College, Bryn Mawr College, Oberlin College, Lewis and Clark College, St. Olaf College, Harvey Mudd College, Pomona College, and Keck Science Center, along with faculty and graduate students in the Educational Psychology department at the University of Minnesota formed the Q6 consortium. The goal of the Q6 group is to develop an assessment instrument that describes the quantitative and computational skills of students completing degrees in biology or closely allied fields. Starting from the knowledge domains and learning objectives described in several key reports, over the past two-and-a-half years we have developed, piloted, and refined a 22-item instrument called the Biology Science Quantitative Reasoning Exam (Biosquare). The development of this instrument and the psychometric characteristics of the items will be described. We envision the Biosquare serving at least three purposes. First, for students, the BioSQuaRE will communicate expectations for success in upper level courses and serve as a tool to direct students to relevant resources if they lack background or knowledge of a particular topic. For faculty, the BioSQuaRE will provide data on what students know, as well as when and how they gained that knowledge, allowing faculty to make intervention decisions based on evidence, rather than anecdote. Finally, at the programmatic level, the BioSQuaRE will highlight the skills biology instructors consider to be important, providing a framework to inventory and assess current curricula. Such an inventory could stimulate divisional conversations about the attention given to quantitative topics and the way these are framed by different departments. In the end, each level of consideration intends to supports student learning and persistence.