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Latinos benefit from faculty ties

USC researchers find that math and science students do better with supportive professors.

August 05, 2008|Mary MacVean | Times Staff Writer

Latino college students who major in math, sciences and technology do better academically when they have strong relationships with faculty, according to a study from USC Rossier School of Education

The study, "Examining the Academic Success of Latino Students in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Majors," appears in the July-August issue of the Journal of College Student Development. Its authors are associate education professor Darnell Cole and graduate student Araceli Espinoza.

"This shows how important it is for students to perceive they are part of the academic environment, especially for Latino students whose backgrounds may not be represented as equally in faculty numbers," Cole said in a statement from USC.

The study was based on nationwide data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA of 146 Latino students who filled out surveys as freshmen in 1999 and as seniors in 2003. According to the National Science Foundation, in recent years Latino students earned about 7.3% of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering.

The USC researchers looked at such factors as whether the students were enrolled in an ethnic studies course, attended a racial or cultural awareness workshop or participated in a racial or ethnic student organization.

Researchers also evaluated faculty support through survey questions such as whether professors encouraged students to pursue graduate school and provided opportunities to discuss course work outside of class.

Some previous academic literature suggests that diversity-related activities have positive effects on minority students' academic results. In the case of this study, researchers found that such activities correlated with lower grades. One reason is that students' outcomes may be influenced by relationships with university faculty.

"Some Latino students may be spending more time with their peer groups in response to feelings of alienation and marginalization experienced within their academic programs," Cole said. "This doesn't mean that joining student diversity groups leads to poorer grades, but suggests that the students are seeking support and understanding that may be lacking from faculty."


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