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Developing Meaningful Studies of Student Success with Equity in Mind: Considering Context (Experience Report)

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Sarah Hug University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. Sarah Hug is director of the Colorado Evaluation & Research Consulting. Dr. Hug earned her PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research and evaluation efforts focus on learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with a special interest in communities of practice, creativity, and experiences of underrepresented groups in these fields across multiple contexts.

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Wendy Chi University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. Wendy Chi is director of ABC Research & Evaluation, as well as a research analyst at Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado. Dr. Chi holds a Ph.D. in Educational Foundations, Policy, and Practice from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her research interests include educational equity and access for underrepresented students, with a specific focus on underrepresentation in STEM.

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The National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S-STEM) grants are designed to support academically talented students with financial need in earning their 4-year STEM degrees in a timely manner. The grants have recently expanded to include collaborations between 2 year and 4-year colleges, in which community college students apply for a scholarship which is transferable to the participating four year college or colleges. S-STEM programs are required to add social science as well as external evaluation elements to document and assess the benefits of the programs, as well as any unanticipated challenges. The first author serves as social science researcher on multiple S-STEM projects. In that role, the author utilizes quantitative and qualitative research methods to understand the impact of the S-STEM funds on students in different academic settings. In this paper, we describe the ways academic contexts have shaped and re-shaped the study of the S-STEM projects, particularly regarding a) quantitative student comparisons and b) patterns of 2 to 4-year transfer. Students under study exhibit various markers of systemic oppression by income, citizenship status, gender, ethnicity, and race, indicating a need to consider intersectionality and social justice aims in any comparative data analysis. In addition, the institutions, nearly all designated “Hispanic Serving Institutions,” vary in institutional infrastructure, leading to differing access to student level data and comparison data. While it is tempting to quantitatively compare S-STEM students’ course outcomes and time-to-degree directly to all of their peers, S-STEM students earn their scholarships based on merit, and so enter the academic institution excelling academically. The presentation will focus on how the research team developed methods for culling an acceptable comparison group for quantitative analyses, based on available data and our attention to critical theory and intersectionality. Students with financial need and Students Of Color are more likely to attend 2-year colleges than their peers, thus including 2-year schools in the S-STEM program is a thoughtful improvement upon the “4-year only” model. Yet quantitative data regarding the success of community college recruitment, retention, and transfer of students in the 2-year S-STEM programs through 4-year BS completion have shown great variance across S-STEM partnerships. Contextual information and qualitative data have indicated potential reasons for the disparities that would not be interpretable without a “mixed method” approach to social science research. The paper will suggest how quantitative and qualitative data combine to enrich the study of S-STEM programs, outline how contextual understanding can support meaningful quantitative comparisons, and point to the benefits of an equity lens to interpretations of quantitative data for making practical programmatic changes to support all students.

Hug, S., & Chi, W. (2020, June), Developing Meaningful Studies of Student Success with Equity in Mind: Considering Context (Experience Report) Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34432

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