Fordham University Study Analyzes Barriers Students of Color Experience in STEM Education

Researchers from Fordham University in New York have analyzed the many reasons why it is so difficult for colleges and universities to retain students of color in STEM fields. There is already a large amount of research that has addressed the issue quantitatively by examining dropout data, enrollment numbers, and retention rates. However, the Fordham researchers decided to investigate the issue by interviewing middle school, high school, and undergraduate students in the Bronx about their personal experiences with STEM education.

The research team has conducted one-on-one interviews with students who have had both positive and negative experiences with STEM. So far, the researchers have found that teachers’ behaviors towards their students greatly affects their performance. “Teachers that create unfriendly environments have an enormous negative impact on students,” said lead investigator Jennie Park-Taylor. “And not just students’ motivation, but their sense of self-efficacy, belongingness, and eventually interest in a field that they may have been really passionate about.” However, the opposite is true as well. Students who had support and encouragement from teachers, peers, parents, and mentors were more likely to stay involved in STEM.

Additionally, the typical grading systems in math and science classes discourages students from underrepresented groups, according to the researchers. Most STEM courses have two major exams, the midterm and final, while classes from other disciplines tend to have papers, tests, and projects that allow students to improve their grades throughout the semester.

The researchers plan to conduct future studies that will allow them to research these issues on a larger scale. They hope that their findings will help create intervention practices, college student advising, and other programs that will create more accepting environments for students of color.

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