At the University of Maryland, researchers are kicking off a research project determining potential influences on Black students at the intersection of race, religion and science. 

Funded by a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, it is a first of its kind comprehensive look at what could steer or deter Black undergraduate and graduate students from careers in STEM fields. Other studies have not taken race into consideration and particularly in considering Black students’ perspectives. 

“It’s important to recognize that the way religion affects people’s lives in a community is not a ‘one size fits all’ phenomena,” said Julie Park, associate professor at the University of Maryland, in a statement. “Our research has critical implications for supporting Black students in STEM and we hope that it helps the science community recognize the complex ways that religion affects people’s lives and engagement with science.”

Park is conducting  the research in conjunction with Keon McGuire, associate professor of Higher and Postsecondary Education at Arizona State University; Elizabeth Barnes, assistant professor of Biology Education at Middle Tennessee State University; and Robert Palmer, Department Chair and associated professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University. 

Barnes added that there is a common worry that if a student pursues a science degree that they will encounter challenges during their education that will compromise their religious faith, particularly in fields like biology, where topics like evolution and bioethics are taught but the instructors typically are not religiously affiliated. 

“We must consider the Black Christian perspective and the diversity of spiritual and religious beliefs among Black students if we want to increase their participation in STEM,” added McGuire. 

The team will be interviewing Black undergraduate students majoring in STEM at several traditionally white institutions and one historically Black college or university. Additionally, they will survey Black students not majoring in STEM in order to determine if religious perspectives or experiences dissuaded them from entering the sciences. Also, Black graduate students in STEM will be asked to identify how Black individuals negotiate perspectives on religion and science as they progress through advanced training.

The goal of the research team is to use the findings to engage Black students in STEM, such as increasing partnerships with Black churches and mosques. They also hope their work will be used in training and professional development resources for faculty and K-12 educators. “The participation of Black students in STEM remains woefully low,” said Palmer in a statement. “Our findings may provide salient implications to help higher education institutions and pre-K-12 schools foster better conditions to champion the success of Black STEM students.”

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