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Evaluating Initiatives to Increase Retention in STEM Fields: Lessons Learned by Adriana Cimetta and Rebecca Friesen

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.

Hello everyone! We are Adriana Cimetta and Rebecca Friesen with the Center for Educational Assessment, Research, and Evaluation at the University of Arizona. Many of the initiatives that we evaluate aim to increase retention of STEM majors, particularly those from underrepresented populations, through research experiences. Traditional lab apprenticeships are limited and usually reserved for upperclassmen, by which time many aspiring STEM students have changed majors or dropped out altogether. In response, many college science departments have sought to expand access to authentic research opportunities.

Lessons Learned

Effective undergraduate research experiences…

  1. Include both structure and autonomy. Although Ryan and Deci demonstrate that offering autonomy can increase motivation, scaffolding is also necessary to foster learning and confidence (Vygotsky, 1978).
  2. Emphasize the broader impact of the results of the research. Emphasizing the meaningfulness of the work has been shown to contribute to increased interest and ultimately retention in the subject area.
  3. Provide supportive relationships, within groups and by mentors/instructors. Both theoretical grounds, and our own empirical results indicate the importance of feeling a sense of relatedness in the course to foster retention.

Effective evaluations…

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