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UTSA professor awarded $350K NSF grant to study students’ STEM social capital

UTSA professor awarded $350K NSF grant to study students’ STEM social capital

Guan Saw awarded NSF grant to research and develop STEM social capital scales to determine impact on student outcomes.

(Sept. 19, 2019) -- Guan Saw a researcher at UTSA, an urban serving university, is contributing to the advancement of knowledge for improving Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and workforce preparation, especially among historically underserved and underrepresented students.

Saw will expand upon his research to understand students’ achievement, motivations and participation in STEM with support from a $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). His research was initially seeded with an internal GREAT award from the Office of Research, Economic Development, and Knowledge Enterprise back in 2018.

The grant will support Saw’s research project to develop new survey scales to measure STEM social capital, or social networks and resources, among students and parents that can support and promote positive student outcomes in STEM.

Examples of social capital include informational support from STEM teachers and connections with adults working in STEM fields. These social support networks and resources aid students learning and navigating higher education and the workforce in STEM.

“Across the United States and the world, an increasing number of occupations require high levels of proficiency in STEM, creating a pressing need to attract and retain young students from a variety of backgrounds in STEM fields,” said Saw, an assistant professor of educational psychology in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development (COEHD).

Saw said these types of survey scales for measuring and analyzing STEM social capital are currently not available, but are needed as the concept is increasingly being used by researchers and practitioners in STEM education.

Researchers and educators can use them to understand, monitor and enhance STEM social capital of students especially underrepresented students such as girls, racial/ethnic minorities and students from low socioeconomic status.

Saw said he will use a mixed methods research design and will collaborate with the UTSA Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) to develop these STEM social capital scales. PREP is a summer enrichment program that helps prepare middle and high school students interested in STEM for advanced studies and careers in those fields.

“This research project expands the use of social capital theories and measures for studying and understanding the causes, patterns, trends and consequences of social capital and has implications for designing effective interventions aimed at increasing STEM participation and diversity,” explained Saw.

Graduate students with interests and training in quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods research designs will help Saw with this project. The graduate students will gain first-hand research training and experience of interview techniques, instrument development, quantitative and qualitative data analysis and academic writing.

As a first-generation faculty member, Saw’s goal is to advance knowledge and inform policymakers and educators on the best practices for preparing underrepresented students for careers in STEM-related fields.

Last year, he was the lead author of a national study on the disparities and changes in career aspirations in STEM professions among high school students at the intersection of gender, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

Saw and his coauthors analyzed the nationally representative High School Longitudinal Study of 2009-2016, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, and found that nationally only about 11.4% of students were interested in pursuing a STEM career upon entering high school and the percentage dropped to 10% percent after those students spent three years in high school. The declining rates of interest in STEM careers were observed across all gender, racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, except for male students.

The study also indicates that traditionally underrepresented groups including women, Blacks, Hispanics and students of low socioeconomic status were not only less likely to show but also less likely to maintain and develop an interest in STEM careers during high school.

Kara Soria

Learn more about Guan Saw.

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UTSA receives national recognition for Latino enrollment, degree attainment

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