REGION — Two Cal State San Marcos professors were awarded a three-year, $830,000 grant from the National Institute of Health for a research project intended to help families support students intent on being science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors and increase diversity in STEM fields, it was announced Nov. 9.
The grant, part of the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, will fund Families for STEM Success.
The project is intended to blend mathematics professor Kamel Haddad’s vision to educate families to help their children in STEM majors and psychology professor Anna Woodcock’s existing program of social psychological research on balancing stereotypically incompatible identities.
It will test a new Spanish-language workshop series for families of incoming first-year STEM majors. CSUSM will offer workshops designed for families to understand the value of a science degree, the compatibility between scientific research and Latinx heritage, and the support systems students need to be successful in the first year of college and graduate with a biomedical sciences degree.
“The idea is not that we want one cookie-cutter picture of what a scientist look at and all conform to that picture,” Haddad said. “We want to see diversity in the ranks of the population that succeeds in science. That is the message we’re trying to promote across the country — that it is possible to succeed while retaining your identity, whatever that identity is.”
Haddad has enlisted the Parent Institute for Quality Education — a national organization which seeks to develop skills and support systems for low-income, immigrant and other disadvantaged students and their families — to help create a series of workshops for the families of incoming science majors.
A research study will track student outcomes across their freshman and sophomore years. There will be two control groups tracked alongside the students whose families graduate from the workshops to determine the direct impact of the intervention and gauge how much it improved academic outcomes such as persistence, grade-point average and staying in STEM.
“We do not want an increase in STEM or science identity to come at the price of backing away from a racial/ethnic identity,” Woodcock said.
“Our whole intervention is about changing part of the social context, which in this case is the family, that supports the idea of building an identity as a Latinx scientist — that those two things are completely compatible,” she said. “Rather than intervening with the students, we’re intervening with the families, teaching them about science and how being a scientist can be a rewarding career that helps people and is not at all incompatible with a Latinx heritage.”
Woodcock said other Hispanic-serving institutions with large commuter populations across the U.S. could also benefit.
“Once we can provide empirical evidence about the impact of the intervention and why it works, it could help tens of thousands of Latinx students in STEM majors succeed,” she said.