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Programmatic Belonging Cues to Improve Student Success

Project Full Title:

Programmatic Belonging Cues to Elevate External Cultural Climate for Improved Undergraduate Student Success in Engineering Majors

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Project Description:

This five-year project focuses on increasing retention and 4-year graduation rates of academically talented, low-income engineering students at Hope College. Student researchers who participate on this project will be part of the evaluation team and will work this summer to begin the evaluation process by preparing instrumentation for the program's launch in the fall of 2021. Members of the team will work in an interdisciplinary environment that is housed in the biology department. However, the context of the research will be in engineering, and the methods used will include both psychological and educational approaches. The overall evaluation plan includes tailored one-on-one interviews which will seek to uncover long-term benefits of the interventions and better highlight which interventions participants felt were most effective/ineffective in establishing their sense of belonging. This approach will result in significant and new knowledge concerning the factors that lead to greater sense of belonging, motivation, and persistence to graduation of low socioeconomic status students. Specifically, qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to assess a studentís sense of belonging and feelings of support as it relates to their persistence. In particular, evaluation will be designed to determine: (a) studentsí feelings of motivational support, (b) how the program supports and/or frustrates feelings of motivational support, (c) if S-STEM studentsí experiences are similar to or different from comparison students, (d) the effects of programmatic practices on studentsí motivation, and (e) the relationship between felt motivational support and retention. Self-determination theory (SDT), a well-established theory used in various contexts, will serve as the theoretical framework for the evaluation. SDT proposes that humans have three basic psychological needs: (a) autonomy (i.e., desire to regulate own behavior), (b) competence (i.e., desire to be effective at challenging tasks), and (c) relatedness (i.e., desire to experience feelings of belonging). SDT postulates that people, including low-SES groups in STEM, look for supportive social contexts to obtain these basic psychological needs. When support is provided and students subsequently feel their needs are being met, positive identities can be formed and belonging will be felt. Evaluation will seek to measure studentsí perceptions of received motivational support and determine programmatic support or frustration of studentsí basic needs. This summer, researchers will modify an existing survey (e.g., Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction and Frustration Scale to make questions context- specific. The final instrument will measure studentsí basic needs satisfaction and/or frustration. All survey items will be entered into Qualtrics for electronic dissemination. Also, students will prepare interview and focus group questions to be used during the regular semester. Literature review will also be a part of the experience, as will learning various qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques.

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