Performance gaps in science are well documented, and an examination of underlying mechanisms that lead to underperformance and attrition of women and underrepresented minorities (URM) may offer highly targeted means to promote such students. Determining factors that influence academic performance may provide a basis for improved pedagogy and policy development at the university level. We examined the impact of class size on students in 17 biology courses at four universities. Although the female students underperformed on high-stakes exams compared with the men as class size increased, the women received higher scores than the men on nonexam assessments. The URM students underperformed across grade measures compared with the majority students regardless of class size, suggesting that other characteristics of the education environment affect learning. Student enrollment is expected to increase precipitously in the next decade, underscoring the need to prioritize individual student potential rather than yield to budget constraints when considering equitable pedagogy and caps on classroom sizes.
Over the last decade, STEM advancement for kindergarten through twelfth grade students has been a hot topic among education advocates and institutional leaders. However, participants in a recent Pew Research poll feel that United States educators have achieved mediocre results in teaching K-12 students in STEM competencies. The problem, cite the survey participants, may lie in parent and student interest, but more importantly, in the teaching style of current educators.
The absence of external validation or positive feedback. Long, often grueling hours. The uncertainty of promotion. The lack of a regular schedule. The physical toll of working in the field. The fact that your work isn’t valued — and is even the butt of public jokes! The physical and emotional abuse by people who have power over you and your job security. Entitled, demeaning comments about your appearance. The expectation that you go above and beyond to perform emotional labor. The expectation that you spend personal money on things you can’t afford, just to get by. Soul-draining busy-work and morale-busting red tape. Crap pay. The inability to just leave everything at the door. The expectation that you be constantly available. This job can be really, really hard.
Unlike natural ecosystems, institutions are built. And the decisions that are made in our institutions create the culture in which we work and study. In particular, choices that offset bias will encourage participation and improve performance – not only for women and underrepresented minorities, but for everyone. For example, increased workforce diversity leads to increased innovation. Despite this, nearly two-thirds of the professionals working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the US are white or asian males, a number which does not reflect either the population at large or those with science degrees.
“You will never meet a dean or chancellor who isn’t committed to diversity and inclusion”, says Rickey Hall, Vice President for Minority Affairs and Diversity at the University of Washington (UW). “The rhetoric is there, because it is the right thing to say, but it doesn’t reflect in behavior and in resources.”
I stood in front of my research poster, anxiously waiting for the last judge to come around. Graduate school application season was looming. This was my last chance to impress the judges and find a Ph.D. program that would accept me. “Whenever you’re ready,” the judge said. This was it, my moment to shine. As I spoke, the judge appeared unimpressed, rummaging in her bag and seeming not to pay attention to me. After I presented, she said thank you and hurriedly walked away. I held back tears, certain I had lost my chance to continue my scientific training. As I began to take my poster down, she walked back and handed me a business card with three names written on the back. My heart leapt with hope, but I had one more thing to tell her: “I’m undocumented.”