Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education (CHSE)

UMD Researcher Awarded NSF Grant to Advance Diversity in STEM Fields

Julie J. Park
COLLEGE PARK, MD (April, 2017) – A University of Maryland College of Education researcher won a National Science Foundation grant to investigate how social capital and social networks influence the academic and career outcomes of college students in STEM. The grant award, which is expected to total approximately $500,000 during the three-year research period, will help identify factors that affect individuals’ ability to leverage connections in ways that support achievement and advance equity in STEM fields.

Led by Julie J. Park, assistant professor in the UMD College of Education, the research is designed to help advance diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics arenas.

“Our study will examine how social connections affect key outcomes for STEM students, including retention in STEM majors, GPA, and job placement,” Dr. Park explained. “It will also shed light on areas of inequality that affect persistence in STEM, helping educators understand barriers that affect different populations.”

This research addresses an NSF goal of broadening participation of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. A 2017 NSF biannual report on STEM field representation found that women, persons with disabilities, and people of color continue to be underrepresented in STEM education and employment.

For this project, the team of researchers will also analyze data on STEM student peer groups, student-faculty interactions, and information networks. Researchers will also conduct interviews with STEM majors in their senior year and STEM field employees on how their social and professional networks influenced their academic and career paths.

The research team, comprised of Dr. Park, Mark Kevin Eagan of UCLA, and Young K. Kim of Azusa Pacific University, seeks to understand how STEM students move from having social ties to gaining the critical information and resources exchanged within networks of social ties. They will examine this link in three STEM higher education settings: student-faculty interaction, friendships and study partners, and information networks that influence post-graduate plans.

The study will explore diversity and participation in the STEM field by examining a variety of issues, including the role of race/ethnicity and gender in study partners and peer groups and the likelihood of STEM students of certain backgrounds experiencing discrimination from faculty. 

“By identifying inequalities in students’ abilities to turn social ties into support that facilitates success, this research could help educators design interventions that aid success for STEM students of diverse backgrounds,” Dr. Park said.

Dr. Park is a faculty member in the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education. Her research expertise is in diversity and equity in higher education, including the role of race, religion, and social class in higher education setting.