New Faculty Research Spotlight
"We must understand and address children’s early beliefs and experiences if we want to change occupational disparities in STEM in the long-term."
After 11 years as an assistant research professor at Arizona State University (ASU), I decided to explore assistant professor positions within school psychology programs. At ASU, I worked with undergraduate and graduate students who were pursuing degrees in family and human development. While I enjoyed teaching and conducting research within this area, I was eager to seek a position where I could train and supervise future school psychologists.
I received a Ph.D. in school psychology from New York University and an M.A. in counseling psychology from Arcadia University. I am also a Licensed Psychologist and a Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Therefore, I wanted to apply my clinical skills and training to my work in academia and have the opportunity to collaborate with other school psychologists and clinical faculty. After interviewing at Texas State, I knew that the School
Psychology Program within the Department of Counseling, Leadership, Adult Education, and School Psychology (CLAS) would be my new academic home. I was drawn to the collegial and supportive environment, the commitment to diversity and inclusion, the opportunity to collaborate with faculty who have similar research interests, and, of course, the beautiful San Marcos campus.
My research goal is to understand and promote diversity, inclusion, and equity in educational settings. I study the development of and consequences associated with social and academic cognitions. For instance, do cognitions such as gender stereotypes (e.g., boys are better at math than girls) and competency beliefs (e.g., I am so bad at math!) influence children’s performance on tests? If so, what can we do about it? To address this last question, my research has focused on the development and implementation of school-based interventions to promote positive peer relationships, inclusive school communities, and academic success.
While at ASU, I served as Principal Investigator of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant designed to understand and promote engineering engagement in underrepresented children. The NSF-funded Equity in Engineering project explores the role of stereotypes, achievement-related beliefs, and teacher/parent beliefs and practices in children’s STEM engagement and performance. The ultimate goal of the project is to identify cognitive and contextual factors that can broaden participation of underrepresented students in STEM fields.
Recent estimates indicate that only 21.9% and 16.1% of engineering bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women and underrepresented ethnic-racial minority students, respectively. The foundation for these disparities begins in childhood as students (and the adults in their lives) make academic and extracurricular choices that set the stage for the development of STEM-related interests, values, and competencies. Therefore, we must understand and address children’s early beliefs and experiences if we want to change occupational disparities in engineering and STEM in the long-term.
Despite the importance of “starting early,” few studies have examined engineering-related cognitions, such as achievement and stereotype beliefs, of young children. One reason is that young children have a limited understanding of the term “engineering.” To address this issue, the Equity in Engineering team developed a new suite of age-appropriate measures by operationally defining “engineering” with a panel of experts, including teachers, parents, engineers, and engineering professors, so that we could examine children’s engineering-related beliefs. So far, our findings have shown that our measures effectively capture children’s engineering-related achievement beliefs and that these beliefs are associated with children’s career plans.
In the last year of the grant, we implemented hands-on engineering workshops in 67 elementary school classrooms to examine whether growth mindset messages and practices boost engineering engagement and performance. According to the growth mindset model, people tend to endorse either a fixed mindset, believing their abilities are fixed and uncontrollable, or a growth mindset, believing they can develop their abilities through hard work and trying new strategies.
A wide body of literature has demonstrated that teacher and parent practices can foster growth mindset beliefs in students and that these students perform better in difficult school subjects. Growth mindset practices may be especially important for underrepresented students who are at risk for disengaging and underperforming in the face of stereotypes and biased educational practices. It is important to note, however, that while growth mindset interventions have shown promising results, these approaches are limited in scope. Growth mindset trainings for teachers and parents should be part of larger structural, policy, and social efforts aimed at promoting inclusive and equitable educational environments for all students.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working on the Equity in Engineering project is having the opportunity to collaborate with an interdisciplinary team of faculty and students. While funding from the NSF grant ended in August 2020, right before I came to Texas State, the grant team still meets regularly to work on data management, data analysis, manuscript writing, and conference proposals. That team includes an engineering professor from ASU, Martin Reisslein (Co-PI), a quantitative methodologist and developmental scientist from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lorey Wheeler (Co-PI), and undergraduate and graduate students in engineering, education, family and human development, and quantitative methods. I am excited that Texas State school psychology graduate students Treyvon Crenshaw, Raechel Cordy, and Karla Reyes Fierros have also joined the team! With a shared passion for promoting inclusive and equitable educational environments, we have put our heads together to uncover knowledge and practices that will make engineering spaces more welcoming to all students.