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      Field courses narrow demographic achievement gaps in ecology and evolutionary biology

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          Disparities remain in the representation of marginalized students in STEM. Classroom‐based experiential learning opportunities can increase student confidence and academic success; however, the effectiveness of extending learning to outdoor settings is unknown. Our objectives were to examine (a) demographic gaps in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) major completion, college graduation, and GPAs for students who did and did not enroll in field courses, (b) whether under‐represented demographic groups were less likely to enroll in field courses, and (c) whether under‐represented demographic groups were more likely to feel increased competency in science‐related tasks (hereafter, self‐efficacy) after participating in field courses. We compared the relationships among academic success measures and demographic data (race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, first‐generation, and gender) for UC Santa Cruz undergraduate students admitted between 2008 and 2019 who participated in field courses ( N = 941 students) and who did not ( N = 28,215 students). Additionally, we administered longitudinal surveys to evaluate self‐efficacy gains during field‐based versus classroom‐based courses ( N = 570 students). We found no differences in the proportion of students matriculating at the university as undecided, proposed EEB, or proposed other majors across demographic groups. However, five years later, under‐represented students were significantly less likely to graduate with EEB degrees, indicating retention rather than recruitment drives disparities in representation. This retention gap is partly due to a lower rate of college completion and partly through attrition to other majors. Although under‐represented students were less likely to enroll in field courses, field courses were associated with higher self‐efficacy gains, higher college graduation rates, higher EEB major retention, and higher GPAs at graduation. All demographic groups experienced significant increases in self‐efficacy during field‐based but not lecture‐based courses. Together, our findings suggest that increasing the number of field courses and actively facilitating access to students from under‐represented groups can be a powerful tool for increasing STEM diversity.


          We examined the relationships among academic success measures, field course enrollment, and diversity metrics (race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, first‐generation, and gender) for 28,500 undergraduate students admitted to the University of California between 2008 and 2014. We found that field courses increase self‐confidence, graduation rates, and retention of under‐represented students in ecology fields.

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          Most cited references 77

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          Coefficient alpha and the internal structure of tests

           Lee Cronbach (1951)
          Psychometrika, 16(3), 297-334
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            A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students.

            A brief intervention aimed at buttressing college freshmen's sense of social belonging in school was tested in a randomized controlled trial (N = 92), and its academic and health-related consequences over 3 years are reported. The intervention aimed to lessen psychological perceptions of threat on campus by framing social adversity as common and transient. It used subtle attitude-change strategies to lead participants to self-generate the intervention message. The intervention was expected to be particularly beneficial to African-American students (N = 49), a stereotyped and socially marginalized group in academics, and less so to European-American students (N = 43). Consistent with these expectations, over the 3-year observation period the intervention raised African Americans' grade-point average (GPA) relative to multiple control groups and halved the minority achievement gap. This performance boost was mediated by the effect of the intervention on subjective construal: It prevented students from seeing adversity on campus as an indictment of their belonging. Additionally, the intervention improved African Americans' self-reported health and well-being and reduced their reported number of doctor visits 3 years postintervention. Senior-year surveys indicated no awareness among participants of the intervention's impact. The results suggest that social belonging is a psychological lever where targeted intervention can have broad consequences that lessen inequalities in achievement and health.
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              Reducing the racial achievement gap: a social-psychological intervention.

              Two randomized field experiments tested a social-psychological intervention designed to improve minority student performance and increase our understanding of how psychological threat mediates performance in chronically evaluative real-world environments. We expected that the risk of confirming a negative stereotype aimed at one's group could undermine academic performance in minority students by elevating their level of psychological threat. We tested whether such psychological threat could be lessened by having students reaffirm their sense of personal adequacy or "self-integrity." The intervention, a brief in-class writing assignment, significantly improved the grades of African American students and reduced the racial achievement gap by 40%. These results suggest that the racial achievement gap, a major social concern in the United States, could be ameliorated by the use of timely and targeted social-psychological interventions.

                Author and article information

                Ecol Evol
                Ecol Evol
                Ecology and Evolution
                John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
                08 May 2020
                June 2020
                : 10
                : 12 ( doiID: 10.1002/ece3.v10.12 )
                : 5184-5196
                [ 1 ] Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of California Santa Cruz CA USA
                [ 2 ] Natural Reserve System University of California Oakland CA USA
                [ 3 ] Education University of California Santa Cruz CA USA
                [ 4 ] Natural Reserve System University of California Santa Cruz CA USA
                Author notes
                [* ] Correspondence

                Roxanne S. Beltran, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.

                Email: roxanne@ 123456ucsc.edu

                © 2020 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

                This is an open access article under the terms of the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Page count
                Figures: 5, Tables: 2, Pages: 13, Words: 9560
                Funded by: Howard Hughes Medical Institute
                Funded by: National Science Foundation
                Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution
                Academic Practice in Ecology and Evolution
                Custom metadata
                June 2020
                Converter:WILEY_ML3GV2_TO_JATSPMC version:5.8.4 mode:remove_FC converted:26.06.2020

                Evolutionary Biology

                success, assessments, student, stem, outcomes, minority, marginalized


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