COVID-19 resulted in campus closures and online learning at many colleges and universities. These campus closures disrupted connections to educational support resources, mentorship (informal and formal), and co-curricular activities that enrich the students’ experiences. This project studies the impacts of the COVID-19 campus closures (and move to online learning) on African American (Black) students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy. While the data is available, this study will survey students to examine and document the impact of campus closures to educational persistence and resilience for this population of students. Findings may provide insights into how support structures (e.g. mentoring, tutoring, intrusive advising) can be effectively implemented when students undergo crisis, such as death of a close family member or friend, disruption to home support structures due to mass incarceration or deportation of one or both parents, serious illness involving the student or close family member. This body of work will provide a basis for examining the methods used to support students from other underrepresented and marginalized groups during crisis.

TECHNICAL DETAILS: This study is being undertaken within the framework of outcomes gained by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) TEAM UP Task Force’s two-year study. Recommendations from this study enable physics and astronomy departments to better support African American (Black) students, many of whom already face well-documented obstacles to completing their degrees (due to other factors which are independent of COVID-19). Moreover, findings of this study extend to better understand and support students who undergo personal crises that require short-term or long-term absences from campus (even during normal campus operations). The project advances understanding of how to increase resilience toward degree completion for African American (Black) students during crises. These understandings could extrapolate to other marginalized populations of students. The importance of this work is that people's lives will be changed by increasing the relative percentage of these students who enter the technical workforce after having completed bachelor's degrees. The future job outlook in physics in the U.S. is promising, and access to these careers will provide the potential for a secure and stable financial future. This research lessens the likelihood that students will be left out of these job prospects due to the occurrence of crises during their pursuit of the bachelor’s degree. Crises that students face are more often personal crises, such as death of a close family member, serious illness to the student or close family member, effects of mass incarceration on families, or deportation of one or both parents. Likewise, economic crises resulting in the closures of some physics departmental occurring due to disasters such as storms, hurricanes, and tornadoes also present a disruption to physics departments and their students. This study bridges the learning from a sudden and collective crisis (i.e. COVID-19 campus closures) to well-designed actions that physics departments can take to address crises of a personal nature. This study provides useful contributions to better serve students and to prevent differential effects of crises on underrepresented minority students.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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Guebre Tessema
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Rowan University
United States
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