Intellectual Merit: The University of Massachusetts proposes a study using a Stereotype Inoculation Model which proposes that students' interest in STEM is, at best, a constrained choice heavily influenced by the environments in which these disciplines are learned, particularly the socializing agents in them (e.g., peers, teachers). This model predicts that increased contact with same-sex individuals in STEM environments is critical to inoculate young women's academic self-concept against stereotype threat and to increase interest in STEM pursuits. The project will shed light on the role of peers by investigating whether variations in the gender composition of peers in STEM settings differentially affect women's attitudes toward STEM, identification with it, self-efficacy, performance, and career aspirations; and identifying underlying processes that mediate the predicted effects. This project bridges the divide between "basic" (process-oriented) and "applied" (problem-oriented) research by seeking converging evidence from controlled lab experiments and naturalistic field studies to tackle an important social problem and by testing processes that might ameliorate it.
Broader Impacts: The symbiotic relationships among research, education, teaching, and practice are at the heart of this proposal. Underrepresented students in STEM will inform the research process and emerging findings will be used to educate research and practitioner communities in K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and national organizations through presentations and workshops. The emerging data will be used to develop concrete interventions that may be field-tested in future work.