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CSUSM grant focuses on STEM for Hispanic students

SAN MARCOS — Cal State San Marcos has received a grant of almost $2 million from the National Science Foundation to conduct research that will help increase the number of students graduating with college degrees in STEM disciplines.

The grant of $1.9 million covers five years and was awarded to a group of researchers headed by Wesley Schultz, a psychology professor and the dean of the Office of Graduate Studies and Research at CSUSM. Schultz will lead the project alongside Anna Woodcock, research faculty in the CSUSM psychology department, and Paul Hernandez, a professor at Texas A&M University and a CSUSM alumnus.

Schultz and his team will aim to answer the question of how the development of an identity as a scientist affects a student’s persistence and success within a STEM discipline, and how that identity aligns with the student’s other identities.

“Say you’re a Hispanic student at Cal State San Marcos and you’re interested in engineering,” Schultz said. “But there’s a stereotype that says engineers are white. How does the student reconcile that? Is it even important that they reconcile it? We don’t know. I suspect it’s critically important to see that the groups you’re a member of and the activities you’re engaging in are aligned with each other. Those are the things that we’re measuring.”

The project will enroll 1,400 junior engineering and biological science majors – 50 percent underrepresented minority and 50 percent majority students – from 10 campuses in the California State University system. Students will be recruited into the My College Pathways project, a new five-year longitudinal panel. Biannual surveys and computerized test scores will allow the research team to compare the development and stability of STEM identity and identity balance across a critical juncture where many STEM majors leave their path toward a STEM career.
The project, which starts Sept. 1, will be supported by the NSF’s Education and Human Resources Core Research program, which emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field.