Mentor Name:
Regina Frey

Mentor Position:




Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2022 application.**

Students in introductory STEM courses often have concerns about whether they will be academically successful in large university courses, but many have an additional concern that maybe “people like me don’t belong in this course.” This concern is called belonging uncertainty and is related to the insecurity someone feels because of their identities. While the transition to college is challenging for most students, this challenge may be increased for students from under-resourced or underrepresented groups who may feel alienated by the institution’s cultural norms and therefore experience low or uncertain belonging. These belonging concerns may be especially acute in large, primarily lecture-based, introductory STEM courses, where rigorous coursework is combined with an unfamiliar learning environment in that the course size is larger than with what students are accustomed, and there are limited opportunities for individual interaction with the instructor during class. In our group, we are studying the effect that course-level student belonging has on student performance and retention in the course. We have found at two different institutions, course-level belonging affects student performance in large general chemistry courses. Expanding upon these studies, we are interested in understanding the mechanism of how social belonging affects course performance and retention. One step in determining the mechanism is to explore the characteristics of the course that students use when describing their sense of belonging. Our goal is to help instructors create course environments that support and encourage all students to reach their potential and continue to pursue careers in STEM or healthcare.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

The student will be studying open-ended responses from the belonging surveys to determine characteristics students use to describe their course-level belonging. Both qualitative and quantitative methods of education research will be used, with qualitative analysis being primary. Qualitative research being collaborative, the student, while having their own project component, will be part of a research subgroup. In examining the open-ended survey responses, the primary responsibility is developing a codebook, which includes the following steps. First, themes or ideas (called categories) relevant to the research questions are identified by reading random samples; samples are examined until no more themes emerge. Simultaneously, the research subgroup will meet with me to compare themes and discuss example responses. Next, these initial themes are iteratively sorted, refined, and grouped into broader categories and definitions for each category are created, again meeting weekly to discuss these ideas for consensus. After refinement, the research subgroup will independently code a random sample to validate the final codebook. After coding the remaining responses, the student will transform the qualitative coded data into quantitative frequency data, exploring the frequency of each code and any frequency variation based on student characteristics such as identity, belonging, and performance. Any differences will be studied using statistical tests such as chi-square tests. The student will become familiar with modern qualitative methods and be introduced to quantitative statistical methods, while working collaboratively with other group researchers and learning how to analyze, discuss, and present education-research data.

Student Benefits:

Through interaction with me and the researchers in my group, the student will experience how education research is conducted, the types of questions that education researchers explore, and how these results are given back to instructors to improve the educational experience of undergraduate STEM students. The student will also learn how to use and interpret qualitative and basic quantitative statistical methods in a social-behavior study. In addition, the student will learn how to work collaboratively in a team since qualitative research is inherently team oriented. They will learn to read and interpret education-research literature (i.e., literature about teaching and learning), psychology-research literature and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) literature, to present education research (both in our group meetings and at a symposium), and to study the effect DEI has on student education in STEM. The students will interact closely with my graduate students and current undergraduate researchers, education researchers in physics and in the College of Education, and with STEM practitioners (instructors) from high school, the community college, and the university. Hence, they will develop a broad understanding of teaching and learning from a diverse set of people who are interested in teaching and interested in studying about teaching and learning. Last, we have group activities that we go on to develop community within our team, such as picnics, hikes, and weekly group lunches.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at the University of Utah, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).