The Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) has awarded the University of California, Irvine $2,700,000 to fund research that will evaluate the effectiveness of introductory physics and chemistry courses, focusing on students who are underrepresented in science.

The UCI team is led by Distinguished Professor of Education Jacquelynne Eccles and scientists Anna-Lena Dicke and Nayssan Safavian (School of Education). Professor Michael Dennin, who is also Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning, is on the grant as co-PI. There is also a strong partnership with the School of Physical Sciences. The federal grant funds projects that aim to “improve academic achievement for all students and particularly for those whose education prospects are hindered by inadequate education services and conditions associated with poverty, race/ethnicity, limited English proficiency, disability, and family circumstance.”

“We are excited to improve students’ interactions and experiences in their science courses and with science in the long term,” said Jacquelynne Eccles. “We are uniquely positioned to do this work at UCI with its high proportion of first generation college-going students from underrepresented minority backgrounds.”

UCI has received a number of recognitions when it comes to embracing student diversity and college access—recently ranking first by the New York Times as America’s greatest working class college. This grant funding also comes shortly after UCI’s distinction as a Hispanic Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education.  

More than half of incoming students are first generation students. This highly diverse undergraduate student body will allow the research team to better understand success of students most at risk: first generation, underrepresented minority, and female. In these student groups, there are high attrition rates and failure rates in science gateway courses, particularly in general chemistry and physics.

“There is much-needed diversification of the science workforce,” says Michael Dennin, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning. “Evidence suggests that this kind of research will be particularly successful with these student groups that are underrepresented in science.”

The research will occur over four years and will focus on students’ perceptions of science relevance. The project fits well with UCI’s Strategic Plan objectives of “Pillar 2: First in Class” in that the study has the potential to help in UCI’s effort to ‘retain all the most talented students regardless of background’ and help ‘ensure that UCI’s educational opportunities are an engine for social mobility, impact and positive innovation.’

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