A University of Maryland researcher won a National Science Foundation grant to investigate how social capital and social networks influence the academic and career outcomes of college students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The grant award, which is expected to total about $500,000 during the three-year research period, will help identify factors that affect an individual’s ability to leverage connections in ways that support achievement and advance equity in STEM fields.
Led by Julie J. Park, assistant professor in the UMD College of Education, the research will address a NSF goal of broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. According to a 2017 NSF biannual report on STEM field representation, women, persons with disabilities, and people of color remain underrepresented in STEM education and employment. The research is designed to help advance diversity in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“Our study will examine how social connections affect key outcomes for STEM students, including retention in STEM majors, GPA, and job placement,” Dr. Park explained. “It will also shed light on areas of inequality that affect persistence in STEM, helping educators understand barriers that affect different populations.”
The research team, comprised of Dr. Park, Mark Kevin Eagan of University of California, Los Angeles, and Young K. Kim of Azusa Pacific University, seeks to understand how STEM students move from having social ties to accessing critical information and resources exchanged within networks of social ties. They will examine this link in three STEM higher education settings: student-faculty interaction, friendships and study partners, and information networks that influence post-graduate plans.
For this project, the team of researchers will also analyze data on STEM student peer groups, student-faculty interactions, and information networks. Researchers will also conduct interviews with STEM majors in their senior year and STEM field employees on how their social and professional networks influenced their academic and career paths.
The study will explore diversity and participation in the STEM field by examining a variety of issues, including the role of race/ethnicity and gender in study partners and peer groups and the likelihood of STEM students of certain backgrounds experiencing discrimination from faculty.
“By identifying inequalities in students’ abilities to turn social ties into support that facilitates success, this research could help educators design interventions that aid success for STEM students of diverse backgrounds,” said Dr. Park.
April 6, 2017