NSF awards grant to IUPUI to explore role models for Black women studying STEM

INDIANAPOLIS—Evava Pietri, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI has received $82,541 from the National Science Foundation. (The full grant, $150,621 is being split between IUPUI and Butler University, IUPUI is the lead institution.) The grant will be used to expand on research previously done by Pietri that explored the unique effects of shared past adversity for enhancing social connection and identity-safety in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

For a science professor to be a role model, it is important that students feel a connection because of a matching identity. The study will focus on role models specifically for (STEM) students who also identify as Black and female.

"We know that phrase, representation matters, and we know that role models are important, and they inspire interests in different fields and a sense of belonging, particularly in STEM," said Pietri. "In this line of work, we've been curious who acts as the best role model and who is the most inspirational for women who have multiple marginalized identities. So, identities that are devalued in our society and in STEM or negatively stereotyped."

Pietri will be doing a series of experiments to dive deeper into role model research with her colleague, India Johnson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Butler University and IUPUI alumna. The research will test their prediction that Black female students will look up to a role model who they believe has had comparable racial experiences with identity-based bias more so than gender.

Their hope is their work will provide practical techniques for recruiting and retaining Black women in STEM.

"We're hoping this study will both speak to recruitment and retention of Black women in STEM," said Pietri. "They only make up two percent of STEM, so they're really starkly underrepresented in STEM and we need their ideas and voices in STEM."

Pietri expects the research to be completed in summer 2021.