INTELLECTUAL MERIT: This project draws on the contextual theory of social identity threat to 1) examine how the features and structures of STEM settings serve as cues to women about how they might be valued and treated in STEM settings, and 2) investigate the mechanisms by which situational cues influence women's interests, aspirations, persistence, and performance in STEM.

The proposed project involves 2 phases. Phase 1 consists of a 3-year longitudinal and experience-sampling study of women and men in 3 theoretically informative college contexts: (a) a large, public university (University of Illinois, Chicago), (b) a women?s college (Mills College), and (c) a polytechnic university (California State Polytechnic University). With the public university serving as an ecologically-valid comparison group, the researchers will investigate several situational cues (e.g., numerical representation, gender of professors, explicit institutional values of women and/or STEM, etc.) to identify the ones that most impact women's STEM outcomes. This work assesses critical time periods in students' college careers (years 1-3) when they appraise the cues in their new environments, decide upon a major, take major-related courses, and select career options. The data are analyzed using HLM techniques.

Phase 2 consists of six experimental laboratory studies that investigate the causal mechanisms by which cues affect women's STEM outcomes. In particular, they test whether the orientations that academic institutions adopt towards STEM abilities and learning moderate the extent to which situational cues affect women's STEM outcomes. Two sets of institutional orientations, drawn from the literature, are investigated: (a) fixed v. malleable lay-theories of STEM ability, and (b) competitive v. cooperative orientations. Because STEM settings are complex and likely to contain more than one situational cue, the experiments will investigate these orientations within the context of other cues known to negatively affect women in STEM (e.g., numerical under-representation, gender-segregation, and the congruence between an individual's and an institution's orientation). It is hypothesized that institutional orientations that facilitate effort and persistence while guarding against performance concerns--namely malleable (v. fixed) theories of STEM abilities and a cooperative (v. competitive) environment--will ameliorate the negative effects of under-representation and gender segregation on women's STEM outcomes. Data are analyzed using ANOVA and linear regression techniques that allow for tests of causal mechanisms.

BROADER IMPACTS: The project offers direct examinations of how situational cues influence women's interests, aspirations, persistence, and performance in STEM. This work has potential to illuminate aspects of STEM settings that negatively influence women's STEM outcomes and provide specific, concrete, and easily adaptable strategies that can be used in STEM classrooms and to train STEM faculty and students. By providing strategies for both institutions and individuals, this work is poised to provide insight into how equitable and inviting STEM environments can be created. The findings will be actively disseminated in psychology and education journals and at national conferences. A website will also be developed to enable broader dissemination. In addition, the findings will be actively shared with STEM educators at both the high school and university levels. The project fosters the integration of research and education as undergraduate and graduate research assistants are involved at every stage. Women and members of underrepresented groups will be recruited as undergraduate and graduate research assistants.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Human Resource Development (HRD)
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Jolene Jesse
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Indiana University
United States
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