Faculty members evaluating program that seeks to boost STEM field diversity

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Two College of Education associate professors, Leticia Oseguera and Jeanine Staples, are helping to evaluate a pilot program at Penn State that could increase the number of women, students of color, and low-income students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Elements of the Penn State Millennium Scholars Program, which is modeled after the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), are being evaluated to determine if they can be adapted for students in the College of Engineering and the Eberly College of Science.

This Millennium Scholars Program is open to academically strong high school seniors who plan to pursue a doctoral degree in science or engineering and who are committed to increasing the diversity of researchers in science and engineering.

Oseguera also is a senior research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. She said that while her short-term research goal is to assess the program for Penn State, the long-term goal of the program itself is to try to double the number of women, students of color, and low-income students going on to pursue their doctorates in the sciences.

“A program like this might be able to affect institutional culture,” said Oseguera, “so that more campuses will see women, students of color and low-income students as capable scholars in the field of science.”

Oseguera said her team will measure students’ academic progress, such as their involvement in research and other activities that are known to ultimately lead to careers in the sciences.

“We will be looking at how students are experiencing the program,” said Oseguera. “We’ll be doing focus groups and interviewing the students so that we can get a sense of how the program is working for these students and how it can be improved, in the event that it becomes institutionalized here at Penn State.”

According to Oseguera, the program aims to bolster Penn State’s standing as a place where underrepresented minority undergraduates can pursue their studies at the highest levels and eventually go on to careers in the sciences.

Staples said her team is working to better understand better how these underrepresented minority students understand who they are from a race and gender perspective and how that understanding impacts them as STEM scholars.

“My hope is that the findings from this inquiry will inform the Millennium Scholars Program, and ultimately Penn State as a whole, in highly effective methods of recruiting and retaining underrepresented minorities, in addition to supporting their academic and social success in STEM professions,” said Staples.

She added that she believes that without this research, progress in the recruiting and retaining of underrepresented populations in the STEM fields will stall and perhaps even regress.

“One, among many, resulting effects of such a stall, is an inattention to scientific and health-related issues concerning the most marginalized members of society,” said Staples.

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Last Updated July 31, 2014