Wisconsin to launch STEM majors study

Majoring in a math or science field is challenging in itself, and working a part-time job on top of it gives the college struggle a whole new meaning — an issue that a new study this fall will explore.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, aims to shed light on the challenges low-income students face while navigating science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors.

STEM-field majors are demanding subjects that often require large amounts of time outside of class for labs, research and study.

“This is not the kind of major you can do when you’re half asleep in a classroom,” said the study’s head researcher, Sara Goldrick-Rab.

A report published by the National Center for Educational Statistics in November reveals that only about half of students who entered college as a STEM major graduated as one.

Shirley Ort, UNC’s associate provost and director of scholarships and student aid, said students’ response to the study would depend on how adequately the University served its students’ needs.

Ort referred to UNC’s Chancellor’s Science Scholarship as one of the ways UNC helps foster students’ interest in science fields, regardless of income level.

Lauren Thomas, program coordinator of the scholarship, said she thinks UNC’s openness about its financial aid programs makes a difference to low-income students.

“Knowing that that financial barrier is not going to be an issue for them is huge,” she said.

Wisconsin students interested in entering a STEM field were selected from around the state to receive $1,000 in grants. Their paths through college will be compared with students who don’t receive grants, Goldrick-Rab said.

“My work shows we can help students succeed simply by supporting them, not by telling them what to do,” she said.

Thomas said she finds socioeconomic class affects many students’ decisions to go into STEM fields.

“Students have perceptions about who can be a scientist and who can’t, and a lot of different things impact that, but you know socioeconomic class is one of those factors,” she said.

UNC freshman chemistry major Laura Weng, a recipient of the Chancellor’s Science Scholarship, said the program has solidified fellow recipients’ decisions to major in science.

“I feel like the fact that they are willing to give you the money they give you shows that they really do believe you can succeed, and that they are there to support you,” she said.


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