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Reflections on Engaging Research Focused on URM STEM Students

As a former student affairs professional whose brief interactions with STEM students were limited to orientation and first-year programming, researching underrepresented minoritized students (URM) majoring in STEM has been a new venture for me. In my role as a higher education doctoral student, this past year I have assisted the ILSPRA research team on a few projects. These projects included analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 response on URM STEM students through data collection, data analysis, manuscript writing, and also conducting interviews with institutional leaders. In these experiences I have come to better understand the concerns for these students, the intent and impact of programming and support structures in place through the alliance, as well as the importance of acknowledging my positionality in this work.

During the pandemic, programming and support for students have looked differently on every campus in order to adapt to the public health crisis. Through working on research projects, I have learned that although every student is experiencing this crisis differently, there is a need for additional attention to URM STEM students. With the cancellation of internship opportunities or not being able to have interactive lab experiences, finding innovative ways to keep these students engaged is a priority. Some former programming was easier to adapt to a virtual setting, while others did not translate as well. In addition, students carry a wealth of knowledge, and engaging in dialogue with them on how they would like to be supported during these “unprecedented times” is something to consider and center in our work.

My own identities influence the way that I interpret my surrounding environments and the work that I engage in. As a white woman who did not major in STEM, I will never be able to truly understand the lived experiences of URM STEM students and therefore cannot assume an “insider” view in the work that I do on the research team. Instead, I can continue to educate myself on the experiences of these students and challenges they may encounter through scholarship and communicating with those in the alliance in order to improve my research practice. Lastly, working on a URM STEM project with others has been a very enjoyable experience. Being able to combine our own knowledge and experiences to analyze data or create processes to collect data has been immensely helpful to my development as a researcher. As I continue to learn about the work that ILSPRA is doing, I am looking forward to upcoming projects and opportunities to support the alliance and its growth.

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