Equity and access in science education: the impact of integrating role models into the science curriculum

Females and people of specific ethnic groups are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the United States. The lower participation of these groups is not due to differences in achievement or ability, but is rather a result of a combination of social and cultural factors including self-efficacy, stereotypes or stereotype threat, unwelcoming climates, and interest in the content. Positive educational experiences, pedagogy, and experience with role models have the potential to increase student interest in science. The following research aimed to discover what affect, if any, the integration of role models into the curriculum has on: student interest in pursuing higher levels of science; student interest in pursuing a STEM career; student perceptions of scientists. Experiences with role models were achieved through the use of gender and ethnically rich examples during direct instruction, laboratory investigations, and a semester research project. The intervention in this study did not have a statistically significant impact on student interest in science, however students in all groups, experimental and control, experienced a statistically significant increase in interest in science over the course of the study. These results suggested that factors other than the intervention contributed to the notable increase. These factors may include the engaging learning environment, inquiry-based activities, student-centered learning experiences, and instruction by a high-quality teacher.