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CPET Seminar: Making Introductory STEM Courses Equitable for Students of all Backgrounds

Thursday, October 21, 2021
1:00pm to 2:00pm
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Please join us on Thursday, October 21st at 1pm PDT for a Caltech Project for Effective Teaching (CPET) seminar by Caltech Alum Assistant Prof. Eric Burkholder of Auburn University entitled "Making introductory STEM courses equitable for students of all backgrounds."

It is well known that, at the undergraduate level and beyond, many STEM fields, particularly "hard sciences" and engineering, are far less diverse than the US population more broadly. This is usually modeled by the "leaky pipeline," which posits that we lose STEM talent, particularly from historically marginalized populations, at many points throughout K-16 education – including after students arrive in college. In his seminar, Dr. Eric Burkholder will present data showing that, in fact, historically marginalized students generally intend to major in STEM at higher rates than overrepresented students but graduate with a STEM degree at lower rates – indicating much of the leaky pipeline is within the university itself. One of the barriers to receiving a STEM degree are so-called "weed-out" courses like Calculus, General Chemistry, and Introductory Physics. In exploring the performance of different students in these courses, his research uncovered some surprising results: there are demographic differences in performance in these courses, but they could almost entirely be explained by systemic issues like differences in high school STEM preparation. This presents an intriguing question for university teachers – how do we ensure the success of these students who come in eager to pursue STEM, but not as well prepared as their overrepresented counterparts? Dr. Burkholder will show data from several different methods for mitigating these demographic performance gaps and describe the development of an introductory STEM course in which students' final grades were independent of their level of high school STEM preparation – suggesting that there are things that individual university teachers can do to enable historically marginalized students to be successful in STEM.

Eric Burkholder is an assistant professor of physics and adjunct assistant professor of chemical engineering at Auburn University. His research encompasses a broad range of issues in STEM education including cognitive and social elements of problem-solving, the development of expertise in STEM, and student success and diversity in STEM. He received his B. S. in chemical engineering from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Caltech, where he studied the physics of soft, active matter with John Brady. He spent three years as a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford studying physics and engineering education under the direction of Nobel Laureate, Carl Wieman.

This is an online event. Please RSVP HERE.

For more information, please contact Leslie Rico by phone at 626-395-8427 or by email at ctlo@caltech.edu.