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4. Campus Projects to Shape Policy and Advocate for STEM Education


Collaborative Research: STEM Workforce Training: A Quasi-Experimental Approach Using the Effects of Research Funding

National Science Foundation Award # 1348742
Vetle I. Torvik
Graduate School of Library and Information Science (MC 493)
Project Dates: September 1, 2013–August 31, 2017 (Estimated)

This is a collaborative project involving Ohio State University (lead institution), Pennsylvania State University, American Institutes for Research, University of Illinois-Urbana, and the University of Iowa. The project examines the impact of different research funding structures on the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and the impact of their subsequent outcomes. The rationale for the study is the recognition that research teams are organized differently in composition, size, and reliance of graduate students versus postdoctoral fellows. In addition, funding agencies change the structure of science training by creating programs that ?encourage? interdisciplinary groups, multi-university collaborations, or large research centers that focus on specific research questions. However, little research has been done about how these factors shape the career preparation of STEM professionals.

The PIs will begin by examining the different contexts of research funding and training and then (1) relate measures of team structure to the structure of funding to determine the extent to which funding agency policies shape research teams and (2) capture the trajectories of the students and postdoctoral fellows during and after their contact with the teams to quantify how the structure of teams affects training. They will use longitudinal administrative data that to capture information about sources of funding for the training and support of Ph.D.s and Postdocs from 13 major research institutions that participate in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. They will then identify the nature of the research training through a text analysis of pertinent documents and use a quasi-experimental design to estimate the causal impact of the structure of research and length of training on trainee outcomes.

The project will have broad implications for the entire field of STEM education policy and research. The underlying algorithms and tools will be made available to the academic research community and can be leveraged to link internal human resources data sets to external data sets. This new data infrastructure also will facilitate the assessment of the effects of research investments on research productivity as well as undergraduate and graduate curriculum development.


Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS)

National Science Foundation Award # 1449548
Andrew Alleyne
Developmental of Mechanical Science & Engineering
Project Dates: August 1, 2015–July 31, 2020 (Estimated)

Nearly all modern electronic systems are hitting a power density wall where further improvements in power density pose significant challenges. The NSF Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS), aims to enhance or increase the electric power density available in tightly constrained mobile environments by changing the design. The management of high-density electrical and thermal power flows is a safety-critical societal need as recent electrical vehicles and aircraft battery fires illustrate. Engineering education conducted in silos limits systems-level approaches to design and operation. POETS will create the human capital that is explicitly trained to think, communicate, and innovate across the boundaries of technical disciplines. The Engineering Research Center (ERC) will institute curricular reform to train across disciplines using a systems perspective. It will develop pedagogical tools that allow greater stems-level understanding and disseminate these throughout the undergraduate curriculum. POETS will target undergraduate curriculum modifications aimed at early retention and couple it with undergraduate research and K-12 teacher activities. POETS' research will directly benefit its industry stakeholders comprised of power electronics Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and Small to Medium sized businesses in the OEM supply chain. An Industry/Practitioner Advisory Board will help direct efforts towards ready recipients of POETS research developments. POETS will harness the outputs of the ecosystem and drive research across the "valley of death" into commercialization.

POETS uses system level analysis tools to identify barriers to increased power density. Design tools will be used to create optimal system-level and subsystem-level designs. Novel algorithm tools will address the multi-physics nature of the integrated electro-thermal problem via structural optimization. Once barriers are identified, POETS will cultivate enabling technologies to overcome them. The operation of these systems necessitates development of heterogeneous decision tools that exploit multiple time scale hierarchies and are not suitable for real-time use. Implementation of these management approaches requires new 3D power electronics architectures that surpass current 2D designs. The thermal management will be tightly coupled with new 3D electronic systems designs using topology optimization for power electronics, storage, etc. The new designs will tightly interweave elements such as solid state thermal switches and modular multi-length scale elements; i.e. spreaders, storage units, phase change and mass flow system interacting with convection units. Fundamental research advances will support development of the 3D component technologies. New materials systems will be developed by manipulating nanostructures to provide tunable directionality for in plane and out-of-plane thermal power flows. These will be coupled with micro- and nano-scale thermal routing based on new conduction/convection systems. Buffers made from phase change material will be integrated into these systems to augment classes of autonomic materials with directed power flow actuation. Novel tested systems will integrate the system knowledge enabling technologies and fundamental breakthrough into modular demonstrations.


SBP: The Roots of Female Underrepresentation in STEM and Beyond: Exploring the Development of Gender Stereotypes about Intelligence

National Science Foundation Award # 1530669
Andrei Cimpian , Sarah-Jane Leslie
Developmental Psychology, Cognitive Science
Project Dates: August 15, 2015–May 31, 2017 (Estimated)

This project examines the development of a key factor leading to women's underrepresentation in science and technology. Specifically, it examines the development of the cultural stereotype that links males but not females with intellectual brilliance and genius. Previous research has found that academic disciplines that are believed to require a "spark of genius" tend to have the largest gender gaps. Because many science fields are portrayed in such terms, the "brilliance = males" stereotype may be an important factor in explaining the persistent gender gap in these disciplines. The primary goal of this research is understanding how this stereotype is acquired over the course of development. Investigating the development of this stereotype will inform how the stereotype might steer capable young women away from pursuing careers in science and technology and may also inform the optimal timing of potential interventions to block its adverse effects.

This project consists of three studies to examine three crucial developmental issues. First, it investigates the development of children's knowledge of the cultural stereotype that males are more likely to be brilliant than females. Second, it investigates the development of gender differences in children's motivation to engage in activities portrayed as requiring high levels of intellectual aptitude. Finally, it investigates longitudinally whether internalizing the stereotype against females' intellectual abilities undermines young girls' subsequent motivation to engage in activities that are said to require brilliance and giftedness. This research explores the development of a set of processes that ultimately limit opportunities for women. As such, these studies will improve parents', educators', and policy-makers' ability to intervene at the root of the problem to promote greater gender equity in those domains of academia and industry in which women have traditionally been underrepresented.

This proposal is being co-funded by Developmental and Learning Sciences, Social Psychology, and Science of Broadening Participation within the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate and by the Education and Human Resources Directorate's Core Research program and the Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program.


Stress-Related Neural Responses Linking Toddler-Mother Attachment and Adolescent Adjustment

National Science Foundation Award # 1539651
Nancy McElwain , Eva Telzer
Project Dates: August 1, 2015–July 31, 2017 (Estimated)

Early family relationships lay the foundation for children's successful development across the lifespan. One particularly important aspect of early family relationships is child-mother attachment security. A child whose attachment-related bids (e.g., clinging, crying) are consistently met with a timely and sensitive response by the caregiver will likely develop a secure attachment to that caregiver, whereas a child whose bids are met with rejection, hostility, or inconsistent responsiveness will likely form an insecure attachment. Variations in early attachment security play a role in 'sculpting' the brain of the developing child. Yet, we know little about the potential neurobiological mechanisms linking child-mother attachment to children's later adjustment. The goals of this research are twofold: (1) to examine how early child-mother attachment security (measured at age 2.5 years) relates to stress-related neural responses at age 13, and (2) test whether stress-related neural responses are associated with adolescent adjustment at age 14.

To carry out this work, participants will be recruited from an existing longitudinal study, the Children's Social Development Project (CSDP), in which child-mother attachment was assessed at 2.5 years. Ten years later, at age 13, mother-adolescent interactions will be observed and adolescents will be interviewed about current attachment relationships. Adolescents' neural responses in two stress-eliciting tasks will be assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). At ages 13 and 14, adolescent adjustment in multiple domains will be assessed via self, maternal, and paternal reports. The proposed study will be the first of its kind to assess how child-mother attachment security in early childhood relates to stress-related neural processes and, in turn, adjustment in adolescence. Project findings have the potential to shed light on fundamental questions regarding how early experiences set the stage for later adjustment and will provide a much needed window into the extent to which typical variation in early human attachment predicts brain functioning in later development.


The Double Bind of Race and Gender: A Look into the Experiences of Women of Color in Engineering

National Science Foundation Award # 1648454
Jennifer Amos , Kathryn Clancy, Princess Imoukhuede, Ruby Mendenhall, Kelly Cross
Project Dates: September 1, 2016–August 31, 2019 (Estimated)

This project addresses three major project interests of National Science Foundation's Broadening Participation of Engineering program: (a) analyzing and understanding the problem of poorly sustained participation in engineering across underrepresented demographic groups; (b) identifying structural inequalities and biases within educational and workforce systems that may influence engineering persistence; and (c) examining insufficient access to support systems and social networks that raise career awareness about different engineering pathways among underrepresented groups. More importantly, the project has the ability to provide the foundational data to evaluate the cumulative effects of women of color's double bind experience of race and gender in engineering and provide meaningful evidence of how disadvantage accrues over time. Further, the new knowledge generated from this project possess great potential in providing directions to engineering faculty and practitioners on how best to promote diversity and inclusion in engineering, where both diversity and inclusion remain a persistent challenge.

Using intersectionality as the guiding theoretical framework, the project focuses on improving the engineering interests and experiences of women of color for the purpose of broadening participation. A predominantly qualitative research methodology is being used to pinpoint the obstacles that women of color have to overcome in engineering. The investigators are using the data to develop a framework and model that women of color can use to overcome challenges that they might face in engineering and other STEM disciplines.