Looking south across Chambers Street at the central portico of Tweed Courthouse (which now houses the NYC Department of Education) on a sunny morning.

Educational researcher examines forces driving demand for charter schools

Map of New York City. Shown as data points on the map are 2010-2013 Charters, Prior Charters, Bottom 20% of Average Satisfaction, Middle 60% of Average Satisfaction, and Top 20% of Average Satisfaction. There are three obvious clusters of "Bottom 20%" data points that contain very few "2010-2013 Charters" data points and very few "Prior Charters" data points, indicating that there is little correlation between parental dissatisfaction and charter school location. Text: Legend. 2010-2013 Charters. Prior Charters. Avg. Satisfaction (1Q). Bottom 20%. Middle 60%. Top 20%.
In their analysis, Saultz and his colleagues found little correlation between parental dissatisfaction and new charter openings, as this map shows.

Economic principles of supply and demand suggest that charter schools would locate in areas where parents are not satisfied with their current schools. But new research by Miami University’s Andrew Saultz suggests that charters may not be responding primarily to parental satisfaction, at least in New York City.

Saultz, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, worked with two collaborators from Michigan State University to test assumptions about where new charters locate in New York City. New York City is an ideal location for this study because its Department of Education surveys parents annually to assess their satisfaction with local schools, and NYC has a thriving charter sector. Published in the September issue of the Journal of School Choice, the results of the study suggest that charter schools may be more focused on student achievement and student demographics than parental satisfaction when deciding where to start a new school.

By applying geographical information systems (GIS) data to data from the U.S. Census, the New York State Report Card, and New York City Department of Education parent surveys, the researchers were able to map out correlations between three assumed drivers of charter school demand – high poverty rates, low academic performance, and high levels of parental dissatisfaction – and the actual location of existing and newly opened charter schools.

Saultz and his team found that only low academic performance was strongly associated with new charter schools opening in an area. Meanwhile, high poverty rates were weakly associated with new charter school openings. Parental dissatisfaction seemed to have little, if any, effect on where new charter schools chose to locate.

The researchers expected to find that parental dissatisfaction heavily influenced charter school location. “Educational leaders are really interested in what parents think,“ Saultz says. So finding that parental dissatisfaction is not a factor “might mean charter school officials don’t access the data. It might mean that other factors are higher priority for them. We don’t know.”

Saultz suspects the answer might transcend economic theory. “I think a lot of people that go into opening charter schools are very mission-driven,” he says. “They want to improve performance, and they are intentionally locating in high-poverty, low-performance areas because those are the people they want to serve.”

That makes sense in New York City, where a charter school receives the same amount of money per student, regardless of its location. Under such a funding model, there is little conflict between mission and economic reality. If anything, locating in an economically depressed area might actually be the better fiscal choice. A charter school receives no public money upfront to support building or site acquisition. Those costs can be high in a real estate market as expensive as New York’s.

“I think one part of this story is that you can’t just magically place a school anywhere. As you think about percent poverty in an area, real estate is most likely cheaper there as well. And so, in addition to mission, there might be some kind of practical reasons charter schools are locating where they are,” Saultz says.

But Saultz is not content with conjecture. “The next thing we need to do,” he says, “is go in and talk with people who’ve opened charters to find out what data they look at and what their priorities are as they make that decision about where to locate.”

As charter schools increasingly become part of public school reform plans, that information will surely prove valuable in informing educational policy.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Parental satisfaction with traditional public schools and new charters figure by Andrew Saultz, Dan Fitzpatrick & Rebecca Jacobsen, used with permission of the authors. Image of Tweed Courthouse (home of the NYC Department of Education) via Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain.

A brick and stone building surrounds three sides of a snow-covered courtyard. In the center of the courtyard is a bronze-like bust on a concrete pedestal. The bust depicts a man reading a book. The courtyard also contains benches, shrubs, and a walking path.

CEHS sponsors J-term workshop

Dark grey line drawing on a green background depicts a brain being injected by a syringe.

Miami’s College of Education, Health, & Society (CEHS) recently sponsored a professional development workshop for faculty. Titled “Winning Approaches for IES,” the workshop was facilitated by Burr Zimmerman and Dave Brownstein of Urban Ventures Group, Ltd. (UVG), and was attended by 12 faculty from CEHS and two faculty from the College of Arts & Science.

IES, or the Institute of Education Sciences, is a division of the U.S. Department of Education that funds education research, and is a frequent target for CEHS faculty research proposals. The workshop began with an overview of IES and the research it funds, during which the facilitators emphasized the following:

  • Because IES is very sensitive to the return (i.e., publications) on their research investment, they prefer to fund applicants with a strong research track record and/or publication history. The agency tends to place more emphasis on the researcher than on the research project. Therefore, Zimmerman suggests that prospective applicants without strong research or publication records of their own might increase their likelihood of funding by partnering with a “known” researcher.
  • IES is looking for rigorous, hypothesis-driven research, including fundamental studies that identify the factors that govern education outcomes, developing or improving interventions, assessing existing interventions in specific contexts, or broadly measuring the effectiveness of interventions.
  • IES prefers projects that center on malleable factors under the control of – and able to be changed by – the educational system, including:
    • Student behavior and skills;
    • Teacher practices and credentials;
    • School size, climate, and organization;
    • Educational interventions in practice, curriculum, instructional approach, program, and policy.

Much of Zimmerman and Brownstein’s advice – including recommendations about contacting a program officer prior to submission, carefully reading program guidelines, and tailoring a proposal to a specific funding opportunity – was applicable to anyone seeking grant funding, not just those applying to IES.

In the last hour of the workshop, participants formed small groups to develop research ideas or do hands-on reviews of drafts of proposal sections.

The following Miami resources are relevant to points raised during the workshop:

  • OARS’ Pinterest boards are valuable resource guides for researchers and scholars. Of particular interest to workshop participants – many of whom target NIH funding opportunities in addition to or instead of IES – is the “NIH Resources” board, which includes a link to some full proposals for funded projects.
  • Pivot not only helps Miami’s researchers find funding opportunities, it can also help them locate potential collaborators – those “known” researchers Zimmerman and Brownstein say IES is looking for. For the best results, be sure to create an account and claim your profile. (Pivot is a subscription-based service available to Miami faculty, staff, and students while on campus or connected to Miami’s VPN.)
  • Boilerplate descriptions of Miami and its institutional resources can be copied from the OARS website and tailored to fit a specific funding opportunity
  • Data management plans can be developed using the data management tool provided by University Libraries. Numeric/Spatial Librarian Eric Johnson, in the Libraries’ Center for Digital Scholarship, is also available for consultation.
  • Neal Sullivan and Jennifer Sutton in Research Compliance can answer questions about human subjects research and the IRB.

McGuffey Hall image my Miami University Photo Services.  Brain injection image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Former program officer highlights NSF STEM education funding opportunities

K3815 Ecology Research Center

On Tuesday, November 4, Joyce Fernandes, professor of biology at Miami University and a former program officer with the National Science Foundation (NSF), led a workshop on NSF funding opportunities for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education as part of OARS’ fall workshop series. Following are descriptions of various NSF programs that support education in STEM fields. In addition to funding opportunities for new projects, this list also includes STEM education supplements available for current NSF awards. While this list is fairly comprehensive, NSF programs are constantly evolving and there are a number of cross cutting programs not listed below. For a comprehensive and up-to-date list of all NSF programs, visit NSF’s website.

Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)

The goal of the DUE is to promote excellence in undergraduate education by promoting leadership, supporting curriculum development, preparing the workforce, and fostering connections within the research community.

  • Advanced Technological Education (ATE) is primarily for two-year colleges with a focus on education of technicians at the undergraduate and secondary school levels.
  • Cooperative Activity with Department of Energy Programs for Education and Human Resource Development (request for supplement) is a cooperative program between NSF and DoE that supports students and faculty from eligible NSF projects who are accepted as participants in one of four DoE initiatives that provide hands-on research opportunities in DoE national laboratories during the summer: Science Undergraduate Research Internships (SULI), Faculty and Student Teams (FaST), Community College Institute of Science and Technology (CCI), and Pre-Service Teacher (PST) Internships.
  • EHR Core Research is a cross cutting program to help synthesize, build and/or expand research foundations in four areas (STEM learning, STEM learning environments, STEM workforce development, and broadening participation in STEM).
  • Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) is designed to support evidence-based and evidence-generating approaches to understanding STEM learning; to designing, testing, and studying instruction and curricular change; to wide dissemination and implementation of best practices; and to broadening participation of individuals and institutions in STEM fields. This program currently features two tracks: Engaged Student Learning and Institutional/Community Transformation. Formerly called CCLI (Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement).
  • Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education (NUE) in Engineering aims to introduce nanoscale science, engineering, and technology through a variety of interdisciplinary approaches into undergraduate engineering education.
  • NSF Director’s Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars (DTS) recognizes and rewards individuals who have contributed significantly to the scholarship of their discipline and to the education of students in STEM, and exemplify the ability to integrate their research and educational activities.
  • NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) makes grants to institutions of higher education to support scholarships for academically talented students demonstrating financial need, enabling them to enter the STEM workforce or STEM graduate school following completion of an associate, baccalaureate, or graduate-level degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics disciplines.
  • Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program consists of two tracks: the Noyce Scholarship Track and the NSF Teaching Fellowship/Master Teaching Fellowship Track. The Noyce Scholarship Track provides funds to institutions of higher education to support scholarships, stipends, and academic programs for undergraduate STEM majors and post-baccalaureate students holding STEM degrees who earn a teaching credential and commit to teaching in high-need K-12 school districts. The NSF Teaching Fellowship/Master Teaching Fellowship Track provides funding to support STEM professionals who enroll as NSF Teaching Fellows in master’s degree programs leading to teacher certification by providing academic courses, professional development, and salary supplements while they are fulfilling a four-year teaching commitment in a high-need school district.
  • STEM-C Partnerships: MSP (STEM-CP: MSP) is a major research and development effort of two NSF Directorates and targets proposals in four areas: Community Enterprise for STEM Teaching and Learning, Current Issues Related to STEM Content, Identifying and Cultivating Exceptional Talent, and K-12 STEM Teacher Preparation.
  • Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (TUES) supports efforts to create, adapt, and disseminate new learning materials and teaching strategies to reflect advances both in STEM disciplines and in what is known about teaching and learning.

 Division of Graduate Education (DGE)

The following programs are designed to support and promote new ideas on graduate education in STEM fields.

  • EHR Core Research: see DUE section above
  • Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) supports outstanding graduate students who are pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. The GRFP provides three years of support for the graduate education of individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering.
  • National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to catalyze and advance cutting-edge interdisciplinary research in high priority areas, prepare STEM graduate students more effectively for successful careers within or outside academe, and develop models and knowledge that will promote transformative improvements in graduate education.

Specialized information for K-12 educators

The following programs provide either direct (i.e., from NSF) or indirect (i.e., from an awardee institution) funding for students at this level or identify programs that focus on educational developments for this group such as curricula development, training or retention.

  • Advanced Technological Education (ATE): see DUE section above
  • Arctic Research Opportunities provides educational opportunities for Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, Postdoctoral Fellows, K-12 Educators to conduct research about the Arctic. Arctic research includes field and modeling studies, data analysis, and synthesis about the arctic region.
  • Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH) supports interdisciplinary research that examines human and natural system processes and the complex interactions among human and natural systems at diverse scales. Research projects to be supported by CNH must include analyses of four different components: (1) the dynamics of a natural system; (2) the dynamics of a human system; (3) the processes through which the natural system affects the human system; and (4) the processes through which the human system affects the natural system.
  • Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) funds foundational and applied research projects addressing the development, implementation, and dissemination of innovative strategies, tools, and models for engaging students to be aware of STEM and cognate careers, and to pursue formal school-based and informal out-of-school educational experiences to prepare for such careers. ITEST supports projects that: (1) increase students’ awareness of STEM and cognate careers; (2) motivate students to pursue the appropriate education pathways for STEM and cognate careers; and/or (3) provide students with technology-rich experiences that develop disciplinary-based knowledge and practices, and non-cognitive skills (e.g., critical thinking and communication skills) needed for entering STEM workforce sectors.
  • Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Programsee DUE section above

Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)

The mission of DRL is to advance theory, method, measurement, development, and application in STEM education. The Division seeks to advance both early, promising innovations as well as larger-scale adoptions of proven educational innovations.

  • Advanced Technological Education (ATE)see DUE section above
  • Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) seeks to advance new approaches to and evidence based understanding of the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments; provide multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences; advance innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments; and develop understandings of deeper learning by participants. The AISL program supports six types of projects: (1) Pathways, (2) Research in Service to Practice, (3) Innovations in Development, (4) Broad Implementation, (5) Conferences, Symposia, and Workshops, and (6) Science Learning + Proposals.
  • Cooperative Activity with Department of Energy Programs for Education and Human Resource Development (request for supplement) is a cooperative program between NSF and DoE that supports students and faculty from eligible NSF projects who are accepted as participants in one of four DoE initiatives that provide hands-on research opportunities in DoE national laboratories during the summer: Science Undergraduate Research Internships (SULI), Faculty and Student Teams (FaST), Community College Institute of Science and Technology (CCI), and Pre-Service Teacher (PST) Internships.
  • Discovery Research K-12 (DRK-12) invites proposals that address immediate challenges that are facing preK-12 STEM education as well as those that anticipate radically different structures and functions of pre-K 12 teaching and learning. The DRK-12 program has four major research and development strands: (1) Assessment; (2) Learning; (3) Teaching; and (4) Implementation Research.
  • EHR Core Researchsee DUE section above
  • Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST): see specialized information for K-12 educators section above
  • Promoting Research and Innovation in Methodologies for Evaluation (PRIME) seeks to support research on evaluation with special emphasis on: (1) exploring innovative approaches for determining the impacts and usefulness of STEM education projects and programs; (2) building on and expanding the theoretical foundations for evaluating STEM education and workforce development initiatives, including translating and adapting approaches from other fields; and (3) growing the capacity and infrastructure of the evaluation field. STEM-C Partnerships: MSP (STEM-CP: MSP): The STEM-C (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, including Computing) Partnerships program is a major research and development effort of two NSF Directorates and targets proposals in four areas: Community Enterprise for STEM Teaching and Learning, Current Issues Related to STEM Content, Identifying and Cultivating Exceptional Talent, and K-12 STEM Teacher Preparation.

NSF Innovation Corps

The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) is a set of activities and programs that prepares scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broadens the impact of select, NSF-funded, basic-research projects.

  • I-Corps Teams are composed of academic researchers, student entrepreneurs and business mentors–participate in the I-Corps curriculum. The curriculum is administered via online instruction and on-site activities through one of several I-Corps Nodes.
  • I-Corps Sites catalyze additional groups to explore potential I-Corps Team projects and other entrepreneurial opportunities that build on basic research.

NSF supplements

Many of the NSF directorates support supplements to existing NSF awards. The supplements listed below are supported by the NSF Biological Directorate and may be supported by other NSF directorates. If you are uncertain if your program supports a supplement, contact your NSF Program Officer.

  • Research Experience for Teachers (RET) facilitate professional development of K-12 science teachers through research experience at the cutting edge of science. The Division is particularly interested in encouraging its researchers to build mutually rewarding partnerships with teachers at inner city schools and less well endowed school districts.
  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) enable undergraduate students to participate in NSF supported research. They provide summer or calendar year stipends for the students and possibly modest supplies for the undergraduate project. The students must be US citizens or permanent residents and may not receive REU support after graduating.
  • Research Opportunity Awards (ROA) enable faculty from primarily undergraduate colleges to participate in NSF supported research projects. They can provide support (e.g. salary, per diem, and travel funds) for summer research or during sabbatical leave.


List compiled by Joyce Fernandes. Program information copied from NSF’s website.

Photos by Scott Kissell, Miami University Photo Services.


Myaamia Center faculty affiliates study effect of self-identity on college success

A group of about 20 students sits in chairs in a circle that takes up the whole room. Twine criss-crosses the empty center of the circle, as some students hang onto a piece of it. In the foreground, a man in a red plaid shirt, whose back is the the camera, holds a ball of twine up in the air with his right hand.
Myaamia Center director Daryl Baldwin (bottom left, in red plaid shirt) leads Miami Indian Heritage class participants in a community web exercise. Researchers Dr. Kate Rousmaniere and Dr. Susan Mosley Howard have found the Heritage class is a key to Miami Tribe students’ success at Miami University.

According to Kate Rousmaniere, educational historians and educational psychologists don’t tend to share much common ground.

“We come to our research with very different approaches. Historians tend to look at social and cultural influences, while psychologists tend to focus on the individual,” says Rousmaniere, a professor in Miami University’s Department of Educational Leadership.

That makes Rousmaniere, who characterizes herself as a “qualitative person” and Susan Mosley-Howard, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and self-described “quantitative person,” unlikely collaborators.

Despite being colleagues in the University’s College of Education, Health, & Society (where Mosley-Howard is currently the interim dean), the two had never collaborated before becoming faculty affiliates of the Myaamia Center, an interdisciplinary research unit dedicated to the preservation of Myaamia language and culture.

The Myaamia Center itself grew out of an unconventional partnership, this one between the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University, an institution that occupies land the Native tribe was required to cede to the government in 1795, prior to the Tribe’s forced removal west of the Mississippi.

Today, the Tribe describes its relationship with the University as “thriving and mutually enriching,” and the University is home to the aforementioned Myaamia Center. (“Myaamia” is the Native word from which the English name “Miami” is derived.)

In addition, there are a number of Miami Tribe members enrolled at Miami University, thanks in part to the Miami Indian Heritage Award, which waives tuition for qualified Myaamia students. Rousmaniere and Mosley-Howard are interested in the factors that affect retention and the collegiate experience for these students. Among the pair’s initial findings are that in contrast to the low – below 20% on average – federally-reported graduation rates of Native Americans from most non-tribal colleges, the graduation rate of Myaamia students from Miami University is much higher – 75% in 2012. They attribute much of this success to a series of one-credit-hour courses Miami Indian Heritage Award recipients are required to take each semester for the majority of their tenure at the University.

Taught by Myaamia Center staff, including director Daryl Baldwin and assistant director George Ironstrack, these courses cover ecological perspectives and history of the Miami Tribe, Miami Tribe language and culture, and contemporary issues of American Indian tribes.

Rousmaniere and Mosley-Howard interview each Myaamia student twice the student’s first year and annually after that. As a result, says Mosley-Howard, “we’re able to evaluate the impact of this curriculum, not just in terms of student learning outcomes, but also in terms of helping them make sense of who they are.”

Rousmaniere and Mosley-Howard say the literature in the field shows the issue of self-identity is key to the college success of Native students globally, not just on the U.S. mainland, but also in Hawaii, New Zealand, and other societies.

“Even though we can’t say it’s a direct causal relationship,” says Mosley-Howard, “there’s evidence that students who are exposed to their cultural context – whatever it is – have more positive outcomes.”

Rousmaniere says that this requires understanding that goes deeper than a superficial recognition of ancestry. “The Heritage Award students obviously identify as Myaamia, but they don’t always have an understanding of how that has impacted their own lives,” says Rousmaniere. “The Myaamia Center staff, through these classes, help the students figure that out.”

The Myaamia Center staff and classes also help Tribal students deal with stereotyping and other negative experiences. “Even though these students are at a university that takes great pride in a relationship with a Native American tribe, it’s still a microcosm of the world, so of course things happen here that are not respectful,” says Mosley-Howard. She and Rousmaniere have found that the support provided by the Myaamia Center helps students cope with these challenges.

This is one element the researchers will be paying especially close attention to as they continue their longitudinal study. That’s because the University will soon begin seeing students who have participated in the Miami Tribe’s Eewansaapita Summer Educational Experience, a language and culture program for 10- to 16-year-olds that began in 2005.

“I suspect that the Eewansaapita students will come in with a better sense of what it means to be Myaamia,” says Mosley-Howard, “and it will be interesting to see not only the differences between how those students and previous students view themselves, but also whether that has an effect on how they navigate the views of others.”

While the effect the Eewansaapita experience may have had on incoming students remains to be seen, what is immediately evident is that Rousmaniere and Mosley-Howard are committed to working together to tell the full story of Myaamia student success.

“Our disciplines are quite oppositional theoretically,” says Rousmaniere. “But in practice,” continues Mosley-Howard, “we found these points of intersection, and realized it was going to work quite well, and it has.”

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Miami Indian Heritage class photo and photo of Kate Rousmaniere presenting at 2014 Myaamiaki Conference by Andrew Strack, Myaamia Center, Miami University.

A photograph of a stick-and-ball model. The balls are either red, yellow, black, white, or blue and the sticks are metal.

$1M+ NSF grant supports development of assessments to improve chemistry education

Three models -- one an illustration and two 3D stick-and-ball -- are shown.
Models like these, which represent chemical bonding, are often used to teach basic chemistry concepts to students.

In response to projections that the U.S. will need an additional one million workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by 2022, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued a report in 2012 that called for improving STEM education during the first two years of college.

Having spent her career researching the teaching, learning, and assessment of chemistry, Dr. Stacey Lowery Bretz, Miami University’s Volwiler Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry, knows just how important those first two years are.

“Fewer than 40% of the students who start out majoring in a STEM field stick with it,” Bretz says.

Even students who did well in high school science classes can struggle in – and fail or drop out of – introductory-level classes in college. While in the past this attrition was accepted as a necessary “weeding out” of weaker students, the current emphasis on STEM education means faculty must reconsider their role in student learning. According to Bretz, “There’s growing recognition among science faculty that we need to do a better job teaching basic concepts.”

In Bretz’s field of chemistry, basic concepts center on understanding the structure and properties of matter. “To teach students about molecules, compounds, atoms, and ions, we use models or representations of these things,” Bretz says, “but the way students interpret our representations often leads them to develop misconceptions about the concepts we’re trying to teach.”

So, backed by a $1.28 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) – her second $1 million-plus grant since coming to Miami in 2005 – Bretz is embarking on a 5-year project to assess how students interpret representations of core chemistry concepts.

One goal of the project is to develop assessment tools that other chemistry instructors and chemistry education researchers can use to gather data on their own students’ learning. Then, Bretz and her team, including a post-doctoral fellow and four graduate students, will hold workshops to teach their colleagues how to use the tools and how to properly analyze the data they yield.

“Evidence-based instructional practices are very important,” Bretz says. “But, we have to create measurement tools to establish baseline data on learning first.” From there, researchers will be able to tell whether future innovations in pedagogy and curriculum are effective at moving the needle on student retention. And that, she reminds us, is key to answering PCAST’s call to improve STEM education.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University

Featured image (left) used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user Charles Clegg.  Other images (above) courtesy of Stacey Lowery Bretz.

A translucent USB cable, which is lit internally by a blue LED light extends up from the bottom of the frame. Another LED-lit USB cable is vaguely visible in the background. Otherwise, the background is black.

Service learning project seeks to diversify computing

A man wearing a purple plaid shirt and a grey suit jacket stands at the front of a computer lab/classroom. Seats in the room are filled by students.
Dr. Bo Brinkman, associate professor of computer science and software engineering, leads the NSF-funded Electronics and Computing Service Scholars program, which seeks to increase the participation of women and minorities in engineering and computing.

There’s no question that women are much better represented in STEM fields than they were in the 1970s. For instance, Census Bureau data show that 47% of all mathematics workers today are women, up from 15% in 1970.

But while upwards of 40% of today’s life/physical science and social science jobs are also held by women, only 13% of engineering jobs are, and just 27% of computing jobs. In fact the rate of women’s representation in computing has actually declined since 1990.

Dr. Bo Brinkman, an associate professor in Miami University’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, lays some of the blame for this underrepresentation on the culture within the technology industry, which he describes as “toxic.”

“The stereotype of the geeky guy sitting alone in his basement coding all night is self-reinforcing,” he says. “That becomes the standard of performance.”

Brinkman points out that that kind of solitary pursuit of an individual goal is in contrast to collaborative pursuit of a communal goal, which is what characterizes predominately female “helping” professions, like teaching, social work, and nursing.

“Women and minorities tend to have more communal goals than white men,” Brinkman says, citing the results of research conducted by Miami psychology professor Dr. Amanda Diekman. “If we want to attract more women to computing, then we need to do more to welcome people who want to work with others and in the service of others.”

To that end, Brinkman – in collaboration with Diekman, electrical and computer engineering faculty professor Donald Ucci and assistant professor Peter Jamieson, and computer science and software engineering professor James Kiper – is implementing a service learning program that lets engineering and computer science students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to help solve real problems in the local community.

As we continue to integrate computing devices and the Internet into our lives in ways we may not even always be conscious of, Brinkman says there’s enormous potential to solve big and small problems. “In that way,” he says, “computing really is a helping profession. This service learning program is designed to make that idea explicit, in order to attract women and others who want to serve their communities.”

Supported by nearly $621,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the program will include an Electronics and Computing Service Scholars living learning community (LLC) and will provide financial support for student-led service projects and for student travel to professional conferences. Applications are currently being accepted for the first cohort of Service Scholars, who will be enrolled in the fall of 2015.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Featured photo (left) by viZZZual.com via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Photo of Bo Brinkman by Miami University Photo Services.