Education professor receives grant to study inequalties in STEM education

Mary Huber

Catherine Riegle-Crumb, education and sociology associate professor, received a nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation in June to study racial, ethnic and gender inequalities in science, technology, engineering and math education, also referred to as STEM.

Riegle-Crumb said she wants to understand why women and minorities are underrepresented in these fields and will devote the next five years to learning what makes female, black and Hispanic students successful or unsuccessful in science and math as well as what influences these groups to decide on STEM careers. Riegle-Crumb said her data sets are representative of both Texas and the nation as a whole and will look at a variety of factors, including student achievement through tests and grade scores, as well as peer and teacher support.

Riegle-Crumb said she hopes that her research will help to make STEM fields more accessible to women and minorities. 

“We need to have students that are interested, that are committed and that have academic skills. We need to have that whole kind of package,” Riegle-Crumb said.

Identifying the issue as a “crisis,” the National Math and Science Initiative found only 44 percent of American high school graduates showing an ability to perform in college-level math and 36 percent in college-level science in 2013. The numbers are significantly lower for black and Hispanic populations. Also, according to National Math and Science Initiative data, women are underrepresented in STEM careers, making up only 23 percent of the STEM workforce.

“Women, if they want to be really successful, and if they want to do as well as their male counterparts, they need to be better than them. They need to be the very best and not just be okay enough to get through,” chemistry sophomore Elizabeth Gerzina said.

Riegle-Crumb said there are a number of factors including social, economic and biological considerations that influence career choice and educational success.

Jolene Jesse, a grant program director at the National Science Foundation, said the comprehensive nature of Riegle-Crumb’s research encouraged the foundation to give her the $985,224 grant.

Microbiology junior John Flores said he is supportive of Riegle-Crumb’s goals. Flores, who identifies as a Mexican-American, said his high school experience was one marked by racism and politics.

“I came from a small, rural town with a graduating class of 21 people,” Flores said. “The most they ever encouraged us to do was find a farming job. I wanted to go to UT and be a doctor and that was almost unheard of.”

Study results will be published periodically over the next five years.