California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM) was recently awarded a three-year grant from the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences for a research project called Families for STEM Success and will collaborate with the Parent Institute for Quality of Education (PIQE). The grant will fund a Spanish-language workshop series for families of incoming first-year science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors to inspire and teach families about their children’s majors and career goals while helping students balance stereotypically incompatible identities.
CSUSM mathematics professor Kamel Haddad and psychology professor Anna Woodcock with PIQE will offer a series of customized workshops designed for families to understand the value of a science degree, the compatibility between scientific research and Latino heritage, and the support systems students need to be successful in the first year of college and graduate with a biomedical sciences degree.
“The idea is not that we want one cookie-cutter picture of what a scientist looks like and all conform to that picture,” Haddad said. “We want to see diversity in the ranks of the population that succeeds in science. That is the message we’re trying to promote across the country – that it is possible to succeed while retaining your identity, whatever that identity is.”
A rigorous longitudinal research study will track student outcomes across students’ freshman and sophomore years. There will be two control groups tracked alongside the students whose families graduate from the workshops so they can see the direct impact of the intervention in order to see how much it improved academic outcomes such as persistence, retention, grade-point average and staying in STEM.
“First-generation college students struggle and face a number of academic, financial and cultural challenges,” PIQE Director of Policy Patricia Chavez said. “They also can’t easily turn to their parents for advice and guidance on navigating the rigors of college life much less guidance or support in STEM fields. It’s crucial to develop a two-generation approach where the whole family plays an active role in supporting their student’s interest and ability in STEM to continue with success in a STEM profession.”
Woodwork added that an increase in STEM or science identity should not come at the price of backing away from racial/ethnic identity.
“Our whole intervention is about changing part of the social context, which in this case is the family, that supports the idea of building an identity as a Latinx scientist – that those two things are completely compatible,” Woodwork said. “Rather than intervening with the students, we’re intervening with the families, teaching them about science and how being a scientist can be a rewarding career that helps people and is not at all incompatible with a Latinx heritage.”