NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University has received a $1.4 million federal grant to research why women and under-represented minority students continue to lag behind in science, technology, engineering and math.
A recent study shows that regardless of summer camps, revised curriculums and faculty mentoring, minority students, especially African Americans, see STEM subjects as “too hard and not worth the effort.”
Researchers at TSU will use the National Science Foundation grant to examine factors such as problem-solving, decision making, goal setting and managing, to understand what prevents one group of students from persisting, while others succeed.
The three-year study will include about 400 undergraduate STEM majors in agriculture, education, engineering, and life and physical sciences.
Dr. Marie Hammond, associate professor of psychology in the College of Education and principal investigator, will lead the study. Assisting her will be Dr. De’Etra Young, Dr. S. Keith Hargrove, and Dr. Artenzia Young-Seigler. Several graduate students are also participating in the study.
A vocational psychologist for more than 30 years, Hammond said community influence may play a role in why some minority students do not persist.
“African-American students come from communities with different values and different ways of looking at the world,” she said. “And we know from research and counseling that this changes the way people make decisions and the way they see what’s offered them in whatever setting they re in. My goal is to understand how these impact students’ choices about their majors and their persistence in STEM.”
The low participation of minority population in STEM is also reflected in the work force, especially among African-American men, and may be a result of the poor performance mentioned in Hammond’s grant.
An NSF study citing 2010 Census data shows that African-American men made up 6.2 percent of the national population between 18 and 64 years old. But in the same year, black men represented just 3 percent of scientists and engineers working in those fields, according to the report.
Hargrove, who is dean of the TSU College of Engineering, said the challenge remains in getting under-represented groups exposed to careers and opportunities in STEM at the K-12 level.
“It requires an aggressive effort and initiative on behalf of industry and government to make a conscious investment to provide exposure, preparation, access, and retention to increase the number of graduates in engineering,” Hargrove said. “Universities and K-12 must work together to attract minority groups to STEM disciplines for the U.S. to maintain its industrial competitiveness.”
Tonya McKoy is a graduate research assistant on the TSU study who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. She said the difficulty may not be that “people can’t learn, but it is the method of learning.”
“Maybe we need to look at the way we are teaching …the way we look at bringing the different multicultural aspects of things together,” McKoy said.
According to Hammond, the study will investigate the role of professional, social and cultural identities on career choices and commitment among under-represented minorities, as well as provide a better understanding of students’ decisions in making career choices as they matriculate at the college level.
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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.