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N.C. A&T Researchers Continue Development of Science Capital Assessment Tool for HBCU STEM Students

By Jamie Crockett / 12/28/2020 College of Science and Technology

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. – (Dec. 28, 2020) – According to a 2018 Pew Research Center analysis, Blacks represented only 9% of employees in STEM-related fields. One study has also shown that Black and Hispanic students either transfer or drop out of these programs at higher rates than white students. Researchers at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University are addressing these challenges by developing an assessment tool to measure historically Black colleges and universities students’ science capital and leverage the information to create strategies that enhance their motivation and retention in STEM. 

“Not only is there a huge gap in the number of minorities in science-related professions, the numbers are dwindling,” said Checo J. Rorie, Ph.D., interim chair of the Department of Biology. “Our goal is to develop more individualized advising based on the science capital students have when they first start college and their current interests. This tool will help us enhance our approach to instructing and guiding students, specifically those who are pursuing careers in a number of biology-related fields.”

Evidence suggests the more positive interactions a student experiences, the more likely they are to gain science capital, which is determined using eight dimensions:

  • science literacy
  • science-related attitudes, values and dispositions
  • knowledge about the transferability of science
  • science media consumption
  • participation in out-of-school science learning contexts
  • family science skills, knowledge and qualifications
  • knowing people in science-related roles
  • discussing science in everyday life

The idea to study the science capital of incoming freshmen originated with Mary Smith, Ph.D., a former chair of the Department of Biology, who has since retired from the university. Rorie serves as the principal investigator for the project and collaborates with department colleagues Simone Smith, Ph.D., Misty Thomas, Ph.D., Pameeka Smith-Pearson, Ph.D., Adreinne Smith, Catherine Dinitra White, Ph.D., and Grace Byfield, Ph.D. Additional researchers include Karen Jackson, Ph.D., from the Department of Leadership Studies and Adult Education.

The research team has already launched an initial survey and focus group of incoming freshmen enrolled in a biology orientation course, using their feedback to refine the survey. The team will then create a science capital scale to assess students, which will be used to increase their awareness and prepare them for success. The assessment tool is also intended to support faculty as they develop and bridge the gap between biology curriculum and what students value, know and care about the field before and during matriculation.

As the largest science department in the College of Science and Technology (CoST), the Department of Biology is the ideal initial focus of this study because of the program’s popularity and large sample size. Additionally, the department has implemented strategies over the years to address retention, which include increasing the offerings of course-based undergraduate research experiences.

The three-year project is supported through a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Media Contact Information: jicrockett@ncat.edu

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