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NCCU Examines STEM Influences for Rural Students

 

Multidisciplinary team to investigate classroom experiences along with social factors

Researchers at North Carolina Central University received a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the STEM-skills gap that exists between rural high school students and their more urban counterparts.

Residents of rural communities, especially students of color, are less likely than students on average to seek out STEM-based coursework and degrees, contributing to a lack of diversity in STEM fields, said Cherise Harrington, PhD, MPH, who is an associate professor of Health Education at NCCU.

Harrington is the principal investigator on a multidisciplinary team of researchers working on the three-year project, including representatives from the departments of Psychology, Computer Science, Business and Social Work.

“To better understand the lower STEM-based recruitment and retention in this group, we are, one, investigating the exposure to and quality of STEM-based education during the secondary education years; two, examining facilitators and barriers impacting student recruitment in STEM subjects; and three, assessing relevant social determinants,” Harrington said.

“The results will help us gain an understanding of the factors behind the lower recruitment and attainment and identify areas to leverage to improve outcomes.”

A community-based research approach will help investigators identify the key factors influencing persistence and success in STEM education, said Donna M. Grant, PhD, who is chair of the Computer Science and Business program in the School of Business and a co-principal investigator on the project.

“Our team has 70-plus combined years of addressing health and social disparities,” Grant added.

The two-phase project will start with interviews, focus groups, and surveys with key stakeholders, including our target group to gather information about the facilitators and barriers to STEM advancement, Harrington said. A second phase will involve a pilot study to gauge the effectiveness of GO STEM (Gaining Opportunities in STEM), a program designed to recruit more minority students onto STEM-based degree tracks.

North Carolina has approximately 570,000 students attending schools in rural communities – about 40% of the state’s school-age population, according a 2019 report by the Public School Forum of N.C. Nationwide, about 20% students live and attend school in rural areas.

Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2019
by Director of Marketing and Communications, Quiana M Shepard
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