Institute meetings spark nationally funded study on what makes STEM program for girls successful
Faculty affiliates of the Institute of Diversity Sciences at UMass Amherst were awarded a $299,271 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to examine the Eureka! partnership – an innovative 5-year program that addresses the gender gap in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The research project, entitled “Examining collective impact in a Community-University Partnership to Broaden Girls’ Participation in Science from Middle School to High School Graduation,” will deploy mixed-method research and have wide-ranging impact – informing researchers, educators, families and industry about how best to broaden participation in STEM education and the STEM workforce.
Launched in 2013, Eureka! is a partnership between UMass Amherst, Girls Inc. of Holyoke, and schools, community colleges, and internship sites in Western Massachusetts. The long-term goal of the program is to motivate girls to pursue post-secondary education and careers in STEM fields. Eureka! has enhanced engagement and success in science as girls from economically underserved communities transition from middle school to high school and beyond. This is so, despite the fact that the partnership functions without the financial and structural support of a traditional backbone organization.
To better understand the success of this partnership over time, five UMass Amherst researchers are combining their expertise to study its organizational structure. Discussions between Ezekiel Kimball (Higher Education), Nilanjana (Buju) Dasgupta (Psychology and Director, Institute of Diversity Sciences), Chrystal George Mwangi (Higher Education), Ryan Wells (Higher Education) and Mark Pachucki (Sociology) began at the monthly meetings of the “Learning Group” of The Institute of Diversity Sciences – meetings that aim to spark multidisciplinary and socially impactful research on diversity.
Research on broadening students’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) typically focuses on individuals’ experiences in STEM or on specific learning contexts (schools, colleges, or universities). Far less research has taken an organizational approach to examine structures and communication practices within and between organizations that reduce barriers and enhance opportunities as students navigate through institutions and transition from one institution to another during their educational journey. This research on the collaborative infrastructure of Eureka! will identify effective communication practices and organizational structures that can be replicated and scaled at other sites in order to promote student recruitment, retention, and success in STEM. The research will lead to developing more effective programs to broaden the reach of STEM education and to diversify the STEM workforce.