- More Underrepresented Students Pursue STEM Due to Research Mentoring
New York, N.Y., Sept. 14, 2016 — A recent study indicates that undergraduates in minority-serving institutions who participate in mentored research not only graduate more often with science degrees, but also attend graduate school and pursue STEM careers at higher rates.
Although undergraduate STEM research is standard at many major research universities, public minority- and Hispanic-serving institutions have historically struggled to provide their students with equivalent experiences.
Student participation in undergraduate research, before and during the PRISM program.
Researchers at John Jay College, City University of New York, used Social Cognitive Career Theory to explore changes in the career intentions of students in an undergraduate research experience (URE) program at John Jay. Based on institutional and program data collected over three years, they found that graduation rates in scientific fields had nearly tripled since the introduction in 2006 of a URE program, called the Program for Research Initiatives in Science and Math (PRISM). Notably, the study found that PRISM positively affected students' decisions to pursue graduate degrees and STEM careers, impacting African-American and Hispanic participants more significantly than their white and Asian counterparts.
The researchers also found that the number of students pursuing graduate degrees had grown nearly tenfold. Furthermore, John Jay has experienced growth in both external funding and in full-time faculty focused on STEM research since the inception of PRISM.
Graduate school attendance of PRISM graduates by cohort. Because students do not always matriculate directly to graduate school upon earning their Bachelors, these numbers reflect early returns for graduate school attendance and will likely increase over time.
"It has long been known that actual research experiences in science and mathematics impact students' attitudes toward science and mathematics as well as the STEM career aspirations of precollege and college students. It has also been known that underrepresented students tend to select themselves out of STEM fields for a variety of social and cultural reasons,” said Norman Lederman, distinguished professor of mathematics and science at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “The PRISM program at John Jay College has produced extremely compelling results and it serves as an impressive model for other universities, especially those that do not initially have high-level research profiles."
Change in the size and research activity of faculty within the Department of Sciences at John Jay College before and after the initial focus on research mentoring in 2001 and the launch of the PRISM program in 2006.
PRISM encourages students to explore their own potential as scientists and develop confidence and self-efficacy in a career-relevant learning experience. While John Jay College Science undergraduates have always pursued STEM-area jobs, PRISM graduates are increasingly focused on professional and academic STEM career training.
"We were delighted to see the impact that undergraduate research experiences have on our students' career plans,” said Anthony Carpi, professor of environmental toxicology and dean of research at John Jay College. “John Jay has a robust and diverse pipeline of students moving on to postgraduate professional careers in STEM fields, and it is exciting to see these students becoming skilled scientists."
This study represents the initial stage of a multipronged evaluation of John Jay's URE program with subsequent phases focusing on quantitative comparisons.
The research was published in Journal of Research and Science Teaching (doi: 10.1002/tea.21341).
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