Current Projects

To learn more about the resulting research from these projects, please visit our Scholarworks page.

The Causal Effects of Career Pathways on Educational Attainment

This study will examine whether the promising early results of a large-scale career pathway program in California were sustained. Specifically, the study will use quasi-experimental methods to measure the causal impact of providing Career and Technical Education (CTE) programing via articulated career pathways to facilitate the transition from high school to college. 

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Sade Bonilla

Funder: Faculty Research Grant/Healey Endowment Grant

Bridging the Gap to College during Covid-19: A rapid-response intervention

CSSR will provide a robust evaluation of the next iteration of Student 5.0, ReadyCT's rapid-response program to support students from under-resourced school districts. Ultimately the project will improve the college and career success of marginalized students graduating high school during the worst social crisis in recent memory.

Center for Student Success Research Leads: Sade Bonilla, Ryan Wells

Collaborators: Shannon Marimón, Tami Christopher

Funder: Public Service Endowment Grant, UMass Amherst

Analyzing and Understanding the Educational and Economic Impact of Regional Career Pathways

The research team will conduct an evaluation of Tennessee Pathways (along with earlier career pathway programs), a state initiative to align K-12 education, postsecondary education, and employers so that high school students have a clear pathway to move into the workforce.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Sade Bonilla 

Collaborators: Jonathon Attridge, Jerre Maynor, Kevin Schaaf, Celeste Carruthers, Chaney Mosley, Elizabeth Dyer, Thomas Dee

Funder: Institute of Education Sciences 

Peer Mentoring Pathways for Bachelor’s Completion

Peer Mentoring Pathways Program will be established in Computer Science / Engineering departments at three pairs of Massachusetts community colleges and University of Massachusetts campuses, which have consistent pathways of students transferring from the community college to the partner UMass campus. Students who have successfully transitioned to four-year institutions will act as near-peer mentors. They will support new transfer students at their four-year institutions and visit their 2-year alma maters to reach out to students who are considering transferring to their UMass campus. The Center for Student Success Research, via doc student Gabriel Reif, will serve as the evaluator on the project.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Gabriel Reif

Collaborators: Fred Martin, Sashank Narain, UMass Lowell; Jason (Jay) Termini, Northern Essex Community College; Kimberly Griffith, Bristol Community College; Megan Chiavini, UMass Dartmouth; Steve Fernandez, UMass Amherst; Gordon Snyder, Holyoke Community College

Funder: REBLS Seed Grant from the Institute of Diversity Sciences, UMass Amherst

Financial Insecurity among Undergraduates in 2020

The purpose of this study is to understand what financial (in)security looks like for college students during the year 2020, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ryan Wells, Jordan Abbott

Collaborators: UMass Office of Undergraduate Student Success

Funder: UMass Amherst Provost's Office

Developmental education for college students with learning and attention disabilities: A benefit or detriment for persistence?

The purpose of this project is to estimate the effect of developmental education on the college persistence of students with learning and attention disabilities. These students are often not prepared well by their secondary education experiences and may benefit more than other students from the goals of developmental education, which are to bolster students’ foundational skills in order to reduce dropout and increase success. However, developmental education could be more detrimental to this group given the lack of attention to individual need and personalized delivery in developmental education. This study utilizes data from the High School Longitudinal Study and a doubly robust research design, combining coarsened exact matching with regression techniques, to estimate causal effects. It considers two-year and four-year institutions as unique given heterogeneity in their prevalence of students with learning and attention disabilities, treating institution type as a moderating factor. By examining whether developmental education in college helps to break a cycle of disadvantage, or in fact contributes to it, findings from this study will influence ongoing developmental education reforms, as well as the practices of disability services offices and counselors in college, all aimed at improving the college success for this growing yet underserved population of students.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ryan Wells 

Funder: Spencer Foundation


This project is a partnership with the Integrated Concentration in Science (iCons) program housed in the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst that examines student learning through interdisciplinary honors program focused on problems of practice. The three-year collaboration includes a qualitative grounded theory study of the program, a mixed methods survey design, and analysis of longitudinal learning outcomes. To learn more about iCons, visit their website:

Center for Student Success Research Leads: Ryan Wells, Genia Bettencourt, Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Scott Auerbach, Justin Fermann

The Long-term Effects of Cultural Relevance: Evidence from an Ethnic-studies Curriculum

An extensive body of research, largely from the field of social psychology, has provided leading evidence on the promise of interventions that seek to increase students’ engagement and performance through the promotion of positive academic identities and belongingness in schools. However, as yet, we know comparatively little about how to incorporate these scientific insights into the diverse, everyday professional practices of schools. One prominent counter-example is the grade-9 ethnic-studies curriculum developed in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). A recent study by Dee and Penner (2017) conducted in partnership with SFUSD examined the causal effects of this curriculum by leveraging the discontinuous assignment rule used to encourage students to take this social-studies class. They found that taking this course led to dramatic increases in several proximate grade-9 outcomes (i.e., attendance, GPA, and credits earned). The one-year results of the SFUSD study have influenced both the adoption of similar curriculum elsewhere and contributed to emerging discussions about incorporating social-psychological insights into everyday educational practice. However, we do not yet know whether the promising short-term effects of taking this curriculum were sustained beyond one year.  In this study, in partnership with SFUSD, we will examine the effects of grade-9 ethnic-studies curriculum on key outcomes: high-school persistence, graduation, and college matriculation.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Sade Bonilla

Collaborators: Thomas S. Dee (Stanford University), Emily K. Penner (University of California Irvine)

Funder: Mindset Scholars Network

Examining Collective Impact in a Community-University Partnership to Broaden Girls’ Participation in Science from Middle School to High School Graduation

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. Research on collaborative infrastructure that brings people and organizations together who otherwise work in isolation provides a way to identify effective communication practices and organizational structure that can be replicated and scaled at other sites in order to promote student recruitment, retention, and success in STEM during key transition periods in development. To that end, our proposed project will shed light on a multi-organization research-practitioner collaboration in Western Massachusetts between an informal learning community organization with a large public research university and local schools; STEM internship organizations in Western Massachusetts; local colleges; participating adolescents and their families; and Girls Inc. National that collectively work on a program called “Eureka.” Eureka has successfully enhanced girls’ engagement and success in science as they transition from middle school to high school and beyond in economically underserved communities.

Center for Student Success Research Leads: Ezekiel Kimball, Chrystal George Mwangi, Ryan Wells

Collaborators: Nilanjana Dasgupta, Mark Pachucki

Funder: National Science Foundation


Currently in its data collection phase, the LGBTQIA+ in STEM study seeks to understand how college students who have at least minoritized gender or sexual identity and who are majoring in a STEM field make meaning of their experiences. More specifically, this study utilizes both qualitative interviews and focus groups to learn about the successes, challenges, supports, and barriers encountered by LGBTQIA+ students in STEM fields.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Annemarie Vaccaro (University of Rhode Island) and Ryan Miller (University of North Carolina Charlotte)

Funder: NASPA Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education

Emotional Influences on Diagnostic Error in Emergency Medicine

An Experimental Approach to Understand Diagnostic Failure and Facilitate Improvement for Patients with and without Mental Illness: For this project, Center personnel serve as the qualitative methodologists for the study's initial phase of data collection. The qualitative data collection provides preliminary data designed to inform experiments that advance the project's overall goal of developing strategies that help reduce diagnostic errors resulting from faulty thinking processes based on affective pre-dispositions and experiences related to how physicians think about people with mental health conditions.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Principal Investigator: Linda Isbell (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Funder: US Department of Health & Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Disability & Purpose

Now entering its dissemination phase, the Disability & Purpose project examined how students with disabilities selected majors and developed career aspirations while in college. Publications from this project have focused on: 1) the influence of disability status on identity development; 2) purpose development while in college; 3) activism and advocacy; 4) the sexual and gender  identity development; 5) the influence of social class on identity development; and 6) coping and resilience strategies. Forthcoming work from this project examines topics such as: 1) disability-based microaggressions; 2) the STEM career pathways of students with disabilities; and 3) the intersections of ableism, misogyny, and other forms of gender-based oppression.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball

Collaborators: Annemarie Vaccaro (University of Rhode Island), Barbara Newman (University of Rhode Island), Adam Moore (University of Rhode Island), and Peter Troiano (Central Connecticut State University)

Funder: NASPA Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education

Decreasing Implicit Bias of Pre-Health Professionals Through Intergroup Dialogue

For this exploratory study, an interdisciplinary research team is developing and implementing an intergroup dialogue (IGD) intervention intended to decrease implicit bias among pre-health professionals. The project will result in the development of novel theory, program content, and experimental techniques for measuring the effect of IGD on undergraduate college students.

Center for Student Success Research Lead: Ezekiel Kimball 

Collaborators: Ximena Zuniga, Kevin Goodman

Funder: Health Promotion and Policy Faculty Seed Grant