Professor to begin STEM study funded by $1.69 million grant

Catherine Marfin

Beginning in June 2016, Amy Booth, a communication sciences and disorders professor, will begin data collection for a study linking early childhood development to success in long-term STEM education.

Booth’s research study is funded by a $1.69 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The research, which is her fifth federally-funded study, will seek to examine preschooler’s interests in science-related activities and whether this interest is predictive of children’s interest in science later in life. The research will also examine how parent-child interactions relate to a child’s enthusiasm toward these activities.

“The parent-child relationship is so important to explore in this setting,” Sarah Murphy, a human development and family sciences graduate student, said. “It’s the first relationship in your life and is foundational for multiple aspects of childhood development.”

Over the course of five years, Booth is budgeted to examine 150 children, both in campus laboratories and at The Thinkery children’s museum in Austin. Booth said she hopes to gain insight into why the United States has a lower number of graduates in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics ­— or STEM — in comparison with other countries.

“The goal of this project is to explore the origins of scientific literacy by detailing input that might shape children’s interests in learning about the world,” Booth said. “The hope is that insights gained from this work will lay the
foundation for developing new approaches to closing school readiness and achievement gaps in science, technology, engineering and math fields and maximizing all children’s engagement and success in science.”

Anthony Petrosino, associate professor and STEM graduate advisor in the College of Education, said he thinks the impact of Booth’s research will depend entirely on educational policy makers in America.

“The degree to whether her work impacts the way in which America treats education in STEM will be dependent on to what degree politicians understand and apply her research once it is concluded and reported,” Petrosino said. “Unfortunately, there is a chasm that exists between research in the learning sciences and its implementation in classrooms.”

Booth said she hopes her research will pave the way for education innovations in the field of science.

“I have long been concerned about the gaps in school readiness that persist in our country,” Booth said. “My hope is that by understanding the origins and outcomes associated with foundational skills, we will gain insight into best practices for early educational interventions that could help close these gaps.”