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Title:Staying in chemistry: factors that predict undergraduate retention and recruitment at a top‐ranked chemistry program and university
Author(s):Adams, Gretchen
Director of Research:Zimmerman, Steven C
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Zimmerman, Steven C
Doctoral Committee Member(s):DeStefano, Lizanne; Bailey, Ryan C; Murphy, Catherine J
Department / Program:Chemistry
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
chemistry majors
Abstract:Top-tier, research I university chemistry programs across the country have the opportunity to answer President Obama’s call to increase the number of high quality STEM majors graduating with chemistry degrees. Chemistry majors at institutions such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign can participate in world-class research and learn from expert faculty in the field. However, given the university’s size and emphasis on research as a top priority, this presents some challenges for chemistry majors as they navigate their undergraduate careers. The purpose of this two-part research study was to investigate the factors that lead to the retention and recruitment of chemistry majors at a large, research I university and highly ranked chemistry program. By using a mixed methods approach, key factors that lead to retention and recruitment were determined. Part One of the research study employed a regression analysis on chemistry degree attainment based on predictor variables available on graduated students contained in the university database system. The results of the analysis showed that up to 43% of the variance could be accounted for by four factors: first-semester GPA, discontinuing math course enrollment, starting math course, and participation in undergraduate research. Furthermore, the Part One analysis revealed that both women and underrepresented minorities are underrepresented in the chemistry major and below the national trend on chemistry degrees awarded every year. The results from Part One and the established research literature informed the development of Part Two. This portion of the study surveyed 209 current chemistry majors and 44 former majors still enrolled at the university. In addition, 45 current majors and 22 former majors participated in individual and focus group interviews asking them to reflect on their experiences in the chemistry major. The results of the survey and interviews revealed that the two main reasons students left the major were a result of: 1) the perception that a chemistry degree was not a useful degree to earn for their future and 2) finding an interest in another major over chemistry. Many other reasons were cited for leaving the major, including issues with chemistry courses, issues with math courses, lack of a chemistry community within the major, and inexperience with the chemistry labs. For those that remained in the major or switched into the major, the main reason for persisting with the degree was because of a connection with chemistry arising from interest, alignment with career goals, participation in research, having a sense of belonging within the major, and positive experiences with most coursework and professors. Differences emerged when the results were disaggregated by gender and race/ethnicity. Both subpopulations are not recruited and retained in the major at the same rate as majority students. Women that left the major more often cited several reasons for leaving beyond what men cited such as: a lack of community within the major, issues with coursework, stereotype threat, and psychological predictors associated with self-confidence, self-identity, and fixed intelligence. Females that remained in the major cited few differences with males with the exception of putting a greater emphasis on having a chemistry community of peers in the major. For underrepresented minority majors, the unique factors contributing to their retention were feeling actively engaged in a chemistry community and better high school preparation for university coursework. The insight gained from this study can lead to effective programmatic and curricular changes that are important and achievable at large, top-tier chemistry programs. These changes are discussed. This research study also adds to the body of literature that the retention of chemistry majors at large, top institutions may be linked to a perception that the chemistry degree is not useful as compared to other degrees. The study also finds that female underrepresentation still exists at these types of institutions despite the minimal gap at the national level.
Issue Date:2016-04-19
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Gretchen Adams
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-07-07
Date Deposited:2016-05

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