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Research Projects


Developing STEM Aspirations: An Examination of Contextual Influences and Inequality by Gender and Race/Ethnicity
Spencer Foundation
Fall 2013-present
Principal Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb; Co-Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller 
This project examines how the academic and social contexts of classrooms and schools contribute to the gender gap in STEM aspirations among adolescents from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds as they transition from middle school into high school. The scope of the project entails collecting surveys and administrative data from two cohorts of high school students (9th and 10th graders) in a large urban school district, where the PIs have previously collected extensive data about students’ middle school years. The addition of this new data collection will create a unique longitudinal dataset that spans across the critical formative years of students’ STEM pathways. The project contributes to an emerging body of research that examines how inequality in STEM outcomes is shaped by local environments, thereby moving beyond the more typical focus on how individuals’ achievement or attitudes predict later choices, as these pipeline models have proven inadequate to explain gender disparities.

STEM Education Effects on a Diverse Workforce's Development over the Life Cycle
National Science Foundation
Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller; Co-Principal Investigators: Sandra E. Black (University of Texas at Austin)
This study, which is collaborative with Rob Warren at University of Minnesota, investigates how STEM skills and training that individuals acquire during high school and college contribute to their workforce success and the types of occupations they enjoy in midlife. It uses the High School & Beyond (HS&B) database, a nationally representative study of high school sophomores in 1980. HS&B contains a large enough sample of African Americans and Latinos (including those who earned postsecondary degrees) to provide information about how our education system can prepare diverse students to fully participate in a complex and rapidly changing workforce, even during middle and later adulthood, and long past the completion of their formal education. The HS&B an ideal vehicle for analyzing the priorities and best approaches to broadening participation in our STEM-based workforce through education that has lasting effects on workforce development among our diverse population today.

A key aspect of our rapidly changing economy is the high demand for workers with STEM skills who can innovate and flexibly adapt to innovation. What skills make individuals able to adapt and succeed? And what did their schools do to prepare them? To address these questions, this study has four research aims:

  1. Identify the aspects of STEM training in schools—from specific coursework to degree attainment and field of degree—that contribute to workforce success and flexibility during early adulthood and in later midlife work.
  2. Analyze whether the relationship between STEM training and workforce success is the same for all workers, and if not, how it differs for women and men, African Americans, Latinos, and Whites.
  3. Analyze whether the relationship between STEM training and workforce success differs for adults who were identified as disabled while in school in comparison to those who are not.
  4. Produce a database on HS&B sample members’ occupations that can be used by the broader research community to generate new knowledge on workforce development and broadening participation in STEM.

Findings will directly contribute to our core knowledge about how to design more effective schools and programs to produce workers who will lead and innovate in a complex global economy. Our nation requires that all workers now have STEM skills and a public with scientific literacy. This project will help to identify the educational priorities to develop these skills and how U.S. schools—both high schools and institutions of higher education—can best equip students with these skills. Importantly, U.S. leadership in STEM requires the broad participation of every sector of our population. The project will evaluate which findings pertain to men and women, underrepresented racial and ethnic population subgroups, and persons with disabilities, and specifically what schools can do to diversify participation in the highly skilled workforce.

Building on STEP to Understand Variation in STEM Entry and Persistence
National Science Foundation
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin), Co-PI: Catherine Riegle-Crumb (University of Texas at Austin)
This project is collaborative with Eric Grodsky at the University of Wisconsin at Madison to study STEM entry and persistence in higher education.  The project builds on the knowledge generated by NSF STEP Type 1 projects to enrich our understanding of student pathways to a STEM baccalaureate and the impact of different types of interventions on those pathways across diverse students and STEM fields. The project is collecting and analyzing data from the Type 1 project sites to uncover the mechanisms that underlie the success or failure of Type 1 projects to increase the number of students who enter and complete bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.  Beyond their utility for increasing the foundation of STEM human capital through the students they serve, these Type 1 projects have tremendous potential to more fully address STEP’s basic mandate to increase the number of students earning degrees in STEM fields. Each of these interventions may be viewed as a natural experiment designed to induce students to choose and persist in targeted STEM majors. This collection of experiments holds potential to inform our understanding of the pathways students follow into, out of and through STEM fields, differences among students and fields in the structures of these pathways, the effects of different innovations on the process of STEM degree attainment, and especially how interventions support successful STEM degree completion.

High School and Beyond: Human Capital over the Life Cycle as a Foundation for Working Longer
Alfred P. Sloan
Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller; Co-Prinicipal Investigators: Sandra E. Black (University of Texas at Austin), Eric Grodsky (University of Wisconsin), and John Robert Warren (University of Minnesota)
This project is re-contacting and studying the lives of the nationally representative High School and Beyond (HSB) sophomore sample members just before most turn 50 years old. Rich information about respondents' cognitive and non-cognitive skills and other aspects of their lives collected in the high school and postsecondary years will be linked to newly collected information about their current cognitive and non-cognitive skills, work, health, family roles, and retirement planning at midlife. The new database will be used to study a number of issues related to the consequences for midlife labor force participation of adolescent and early adult circumstances and characteristics. The project will increase our knowledge of the relationships among work, aging, and cognitive and non-cognitive functioning over the life cycle. The historical period occupied by the HSB cohort provides a unique opportunity to study the effects of labor market demand shocks (including the Great Recession) and technological change and computerization on employment patterns for different population subgroups. Re-contacting respondents will provide crucial proof-of-concept and baseline measures for future data collection as respondents' age. The new data infrastructure, composed of a robust database and a multidisciplinary community of users, will support cutting-edge research in a broad set of disciplines, from economics, sociology and demography to health and aging, family studies, education, organizational behavior, psychology, and even extending to more distal fields of genetics, medicine (general and disease specific), criminology and other areas that touch on labor force concerns among older workers.

Postsecondary Pathways into STEM for Students with Disabilities
National Science Foundation
Principal Investigator: Chandra Muller (University of Texas)
This study will investigate contemporary pathways to STEM degree or certification completion, and the postsecondary institutional contexts that promote the success of students with disabilities. Increasing diversity in STEM fields has been a challenge, because the factors contributing to the low levels of STEM participation among students with disabilities are complex and rooted in academic preparation in high school and earlier. Using two nationally representative datasets including students both with and without disabilities, the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS) and the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (2004-2009) (BPS), this study takes a longitudinal approach that begins by making connections between high school preparation and the transition into postsecondary education and/or work, as well as selection of a STEM major. High school preparation encompasses cumulative and progressive course-taking (math and science courses in particular), course grades and failures, standardized test scores, social-psychological qualities (educational expectations and STEM self-efficacy), and, finally, high school completion.

Geoscientist and Engineers in the Oil and Gas Industry
Prinicipal Investigators: Christine Williams and Chandra Muller (University of Texas)
This study investigates (1) whether women leave industry faster than men and if so (2) identify the mechanisms that contribute to their attrition. We hypothesize that women do leave major companies faster.  They may also leave industry faster; however, it is also possible that they continue to work in industry but in sectors and jobs that are outside of the major companies. We hypothesize that structural factors within the companies and the industry as a whole are the primary reason for the differential attrition and pathways.  These structural factors involve both (a) formal policy and (b) informal social relationships.  The structural factors may directly impact attrition and pathways.  It is also possible that even when structural circumstances are similar for men and women, they contribute to opportunity differently for men and women.

Education and the Transition to Adulthood
National Institute of Health
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
PI of the subcontract: Dan Black (University of Chicago)
Co-Investigator: Robert A. Hummer (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-Investigator: R. Kelly Raley (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-Investigator: Catherine Riegle-Crumb (University of Texas at Austin)
Project Director:Rupa Datta (University of Chicago)
Consultant: Eric Grodsky (University of Minnesota)
This project will add detailed information on postsecondary education for the National Longitudinal Study of Youth of 1997 (NLSY97) respondents, culled from transcripts and other administrative records of test scores and postsecondary enrollment histories. Postsecondary transcripts will be collected and coded according to a well-established taxonomy used by researchers, policy makers, and administrators alike. These newly collected data, plus a large number of variables that summarize and describe students' postsecondary experiences and outcomes will be made available as part of the publicly distributed NLS data set. The NLSY97 is the premier nationally representative longitudinal data set for studying the transition from high school to work and into adulthood. In several key domains (employment, schooling, marriage and cohabitation, government program participation, migration), the NLSY97 includes month-by-month status variables for all respondents. This postsecondary transcript study provides invaluable detailed chronological information about students’enrollment patterns across post-secondary institutions, the courses they took (including the content of the courses) and their performance in those courses. The data produced from this study will provide vital information about the complex interplay of family, education, work and health across the life course. This information is key to understanding the pathways through which education-based health disparities are produced. This large and complex study will involve two major phases and a multidisciplinary research team. The firstphase involves the collection and coding of approximately 7,500 postsecondary transcripts from about 4,800 NLSY97 respondents. The second phase will produce constructed variables and data files for public dissemination. These constructed variables are essential to stimulate wide use of the postsecondary education data. In addition to producing public access data, investigators will conduct workshops in a number of settings and provide detailed documentation to introduce the data to multidisciplinary users in both research and applied settings, and encourage their use.

Land of Plenty? Examining Disparities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Postsecondary Outcomes
National Science Foundation  
Graduate Research Fellowship 2011-2014
Recipient: Evangeleen Pattison
Strikingly, there are no racial/ethnic disparities in who declares a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) major among students who attend postsecondary institutions (Riegle-Crumb & King 2010). Despite this, racial/ethnic minorities are much less likely than white and Asian students to graduate from college with a STEM degree (NSF 2004). These disparities are troubling on equity grounds but also problematic in terms of sustaining the country’s STEM labor force, given that underrepresented minorities will soon constitute the majority of the population. I will investigate what happens to underrepresented minorities who declare a STEM major in college but do not complete a STEM degree. Social integration promotes college persistence (Tinto 1993), yet is underdeveloped in STEM persistence literature. To close this gap, I will investigate how processes of social integration influence persistence in and completion of a STEM degree, with a critical eye towards diversity.  The first dimension of social integration that I will examine is underrepresented STEM students’ relationships with STEM faculty and peers. Next, I will investigate the role of high school STEM preparation on these relationships to examine if less prepared students are marginalized. I will also explore if underrepresented STEM students seek social support outside of STEM, and how this affects subsequent STEM integration. Lastly, I will investigate how feelings of social integration differ across institutional contexts. This will allow me to explore issues of inclusion by examining if minority STEM students at predominately minority-serving institutions feel more socially integrated than similar students at predominately white-serving institutions. Investigating multiple dimensions of social integration will provide an illuminating view into the barriers faced by underrepresented STEM students.

Feasibility Study of Dissemination of Knowledge from STEP Type 1 Projects
National Science Foundation
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
The goal of the NSF STEP program is to increase the number of undergraduate STEM degrees, particularly among underrepresented groups. The STEP Type 1 program funds projects at both baccalaureate and associate’s degree-granting institutions to implement strategies “aimed at adapting and implementing best practices” (NSF STEP Program Solicitation) to meet the STEP program goals. Our research will work with recently funded STEP Type 1 projects to create a model for the collection and dissemination of common data across STEP Type 1 grantees. By leveraging multiple projects with similar aims and overlapping strategies we will enhance the impact of each individual project and gain additional insights relevant to the broader researcher and practitioner communities from the set of projects. This project will produce a model for leveraging data and findings from Type 1 STEP projects to establish a feasibility model for best practices in coordination and dissemination of knowledge to the larger higher education research, policy and practice communities.  In doing so, we will broaden the impact of the STEP program and articulate the strategies institutions of higher education can use to increase STEM degrees.

Teaching Career Choices: Evaluation of Sally Ride Science
Sally Ride Science
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin) Co-PI: Catherine Riegle-Crumb (University of Texas at Austin)
This project is an evaluation of the effect of a 3rd-8th grade teacher training academy program. The goal of the Sally Ride Science Training Academy is to impact teachers’ attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about science career possibilities for girls. Ultimately the program hopes to encourage more gender-neutral beliefs regarding science and science careers in students with the training given to the teachers. The goal for the research is to examine the impact of the academy on these target populations and evaluate the success of the program’s expected outcomes.

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Using O*Net to Investigate Sources of Educational and Racial Variation in Marriage
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
PI: R. Kelly Raley
Dates: 3/4/2011-2013
Educational and racial differences in a variety of health related outcomes are large and as yet unexplained. Work characteristics, such as stress, recognition, and autonomy, serve as under-explored mechanisms that may connect education and race to wide-ranging aspects of well being such as mental health, family stability, physical health, and mortality. The newly revamped Dictionary of Occupational Titles (now called O*NET), linked to a data source with measures of health-related outcomes, provides an opportunity to evaluate the utility of occupational characteristics for understanding the mechanisms underlying health disparities. As a test case, we propose to investigate the potential for work characteristics to explain educational and racial disparities in marriage and cohabitation by linking data from the O*NET, 2000 Census, and the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. First, this project will use these sources to create a data set describing work demands, rewards, and demographic composition that can be linked to the NLSY using 2002 census codes. Second, it will link these data to the NLSY to document racial and educational in occupational characteristics in early adulthood. Third, the project will investigate the association between occupational characteristics and women's union formation and whether attributes of occupations are linked to educational and/or racial disparities in marriage and cohabitation. Finally, after having refined our data set through the specific aims 1-3, we will make data set describing occupational demands, rewards, and demographic composition publicly available through the NLSY. This project will serve as a foundation for a larger study exploring the influence of men's and women's work characteristics on family formation and stability.


Beyond Blackboards: Integrated Methods for STEM Education and Workforce Development
National Science Foundation
PI: Richard Crawford (University of Texas at Austin - Department of Mechanical Engineering) Co-PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin - Department of Sociology) Co-PI: Anthony Petrosino (University of Texas at Austin - Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Math and Science Education)
The University of Texas (UT) Cockrell School of Engineering is joining with Skillpoint Alliance, a Central Texas education and workforce development agency, and Round Rock ISD, a rapidly growing district serving a diverse population of more than 40,000 students, to deploy an integrated approach to engaging middle school students, teachers, counselors, administrators, parents and caregivers in activities that improve awareness and understanding of a range of STEM career and college pathways. The project builds on the successful DTEACh program that provides teachers professional development in engineering education using design and empowers educators and caregivers to engage students in STEM activities that guide them toward considering careers in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The program comprises five essential steps: training teachers; providing after-school programs for students; training counselors, administrators and other educators; offering intensive summer camps for students; and reaching out to caregivers. The project supports teachers with multiple professional development opportunities and field experiences, coaching sessions with master teachers, support from UT engineering students and industry mentors, and numerous other resources. Evaluation of the program's impact on students depends not only on student-reported interest in STEM subjects and careers, but on assessment of student performance in STEM subjects and analysis of their high school course selections. Evaluation of the program's impact on teachers focuses on an assessment of participants' curricula and pedagogy and impact on teacher networks. The project produces research tools and research findings that build the knowledge base about approaches, models, and interventions with middle school students from underrepresented and economically-disadvantaged populations and their teachers - the population most likely to increase United States capacity in the STEM workforce, including ICT fields.

Students with Learning Disabilities: STEM Pathways in the Social Context
National Science Foundation
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)(HRD 0834177)
PI: Rebecca M. Callahan (University of Texas at Austin) (HRD 0965444)
Improving young adults' preparation to enter into STEM fields is crucial for the economic well-being of our nation; students with learning disabilities face a special set of social and academic needs in their pathways towards STEM preparation. A rich body of literature focuses on the STEM preparation of adolescents as a whole, however we know far less about the processes and pathways of students with learning disabilities. Focusing on college preparatory STEM achievement outcomes, we explore the effects of high school context, social and academic processes, as well as variations by demographic subgroup (racial, ethnic and linguistic minority, gender, class) among the population of students with learning disabilities. The need to increase diversity in participation in STEM fields can be addressed by tapping in to traditionally underrepresented groups, such as students with learning disabilities who may possess many talents yet also face unique barriers.

Feasibility Study of a Follow-up Study of the High School and Beyond (HSB) Respondents
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Principal Investigators: Chandra Muller and Sandra Black (University of Texas)
This study will position the research team to develop a plan and priorities for a larger follow-up of HSB respondents. The knowledge gained from the larger follow up of HSB sample members will help to articulate the mechanisms that produce the strong relationships among social origins, noncognitive skills, education and work, retirement and quality of life in later life. A clear understanding of these mechanisms will enhance our capacity to identify policy levers and design policies to (1) promote working longer, (2) improve the quality of work life for those 50 years of age and older, and (3) identify important sources of heterogeneity in the associations between education, work and later life outcomes.

STEM in the New Millennium: Preparation, Pathways and Diversity
National Science Foundation (# 0757018)
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: Catherine Riegle-Crumb (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: R Kelly Raley (University of Texas at Austin)
This study will use multiple contemporary longitudinal, nationally representative datasets to study the educational pathways into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, beginning in high school and before and extending into early adult careers. We argue that there are several factors that have not been previously adequately addressed in the literature on STEM pathways. First, high school indicators of STEM achievement and the convergence of these indicators may be crucial for understanding success in higher education and in the labor force. Further, understanding how the contexts of postsecondary institutions themselves foster students’ persistence and achievement in STEM as well as an accumulation of STEM knowledge and skills independent of degrees earned are key components of our study. Finally, we focus on the connection between STEM education and the labor force, broadening the usual treatment of this pathway as a linear relationship between degree attainment and entry into a STEM occupation, and focusing on labor force participation in non-STEM occupations that may require STEM literacy. Our study will provide insights into increasing the participation and success of all college students in the STEM fields that are of value to both policymakers and postsecondary institutions.  

UT Graduate School Climate Survey
University of Texas Graduate School
PI: Chandra Muller (The University of Texas at Austin)

The Roles of Language and Education in Immigrant Adolescents’ Civic Integration during the Transition to Adulthood
Russell Sage Foundation ( RSF Project #: 88-06-12 )
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: Rebecca M. Callahan (University of Texas at Austin)
This study aims to investigate 1) how schools facilitate the integration of immigrant youth into civic society, through exposure to curricular and extracurricular opportunities and through the structuring of informal social opportunities, and what the role of language has in this process; 2) how school contexts or communities-in particular their composition, administrative organization and policies-contribute to the civic engagement of adolescents, and what the role of language has in this process, and 3) how these academic and social experiences during high school influence language use and, in turn, civic integration in early adulthood, taking into account engagement with other institutions such as postsecondary education, work, church, and family formation. It is expected that the interplay of adolescent and young adult language with high school experiences, and the balance of school with family and community in early adulthood, will shape how immigrants engage in civic activity and identify linguistically and socially, as young adults. These pathways may differ depending on the socioeconomic and cultural circumstances of assimilation.

Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIHCD)( 1 R01 HD040428-01 )
National Science Foundation
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI:R. Kelly Raley (The University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI:Kenneth A. Frank (Michigan State University)
Co-PI:Toni Falbo (The University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI:Kathryn S. Schiller (University at Albany, State University of New York)
This project will collect high school transcripts for the Wave III sample members of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). These newly collected data, plus a large number of variables that summarize and describe the transcripts, will be made part of the publicly distributed Add Health data set. Add Health was designed to explore adolescents’ health behaviors, with an emphasis on the influence of social context that includes families, peers, neighborhoods and school, but it has limited measures of academic activities and achievement. Transcript data are technically challenging to analyze, but they can lead to an understanding of students’ academic experiences, as well as opportunity and stratification. This transcript study will provide rich new data for the study of academic achievement and opportunity, and it will enhance the utility of the current Add Health data set. This is a large and complex project with two major phases and an interdisciplinary research team, overseen by an Advisory Board. The first phase involves the collection and coding of high school transcripts and associated data for approximately 18,700 Wave III Add Health sample members, plus a sample of 2,000 of their partners. Westat, an experienced data collection firm, will conduct the data collection and initial coding. Special attention will be paid to ensuring respondent and school security. The second phase of the project, conducted at The University of Texas, involves the construction of additional variables to measure educational stratification and achievement, adapted for the Add Health design. These additional variables are essential to stimulate wide use of the transcript data, as well as to support initial analyses. Consistent with the emphasis of Add Health on social context, the variables will be useful for multilevel analyses. Westat coded measures will include coursework, standardized test scores and attendance. UT will construct measures of academic achievement (including course sequence status and grades), the course taking context, school transitions, and school context. In addition to producing public access data, the investigators will produce extensive documentation about the data and the procedures used to produce them. They will conduct public workshops in a number of settings to introduce the data to users and encourage their use. They will also publish a variety of initial analyses on diverse topics.

Gender Differences in Science and Math: Diversity and the Role of Social Context
National Science Foundation ( HRD-0523046 )
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: Catherine Riegle-Crumb (University of Texas at Austin)
This project is studying the effects of social contexts-in the school and its community, and in the more immediate social settings within the school such as courses and friendships-on girls' and boys' choices of science and math courses, performance in those courses, and pursuit of science, technology, engineering, math, and teaching majors in college, analyzing two related datasets: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and the new Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Transcript Study (AHAA), the education component to the original Add Health. The researchers will also determine whether gendered choices and performance in science and math are influenced by the broader social context between schools -including the schools' academic and informal climate and the surrounding community, and whether the effects of this broader social context across schools differ among students according to their (a) race and ethnicity, b) social class and (c) immigrant generational status.

Race and School Contexts of Adolescent Social Relations
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development ( R03 HD047331-01)
PI: R. Kelly Raley (University of Texas at Austin)

Adolescents’ Body Weight and Perception in the Social Context of Schools
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
Recipient: Anna S. Mueller

Adolescent Development and the Social Organizations of Schools, Pilot Study
William T. Grant Foundation
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
PI: Jacquelynne Eccles (University of Michigan)

Science Achievement and Health Behavior: High School Curriculum, Social Context, and Opportunity to Learn
National Science Foundation ( REC-0126167 )
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: Pedro Reyes (University of Texas at Austin)

Building Social Capital at School
Spencer Foundation, Collaborative Projects Initiative
Co-Investigator: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-Investigator: Kenneth Frank (Michigan State University)

Houston Annenberg Challenge Research and Evaluation Study
PI: Pedro Reyes (University of Texas at Austin)
Co-PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)

The Effects of Housing and Community on Parental Involvement in Education
Hogg Foundation
PI: Chandra Muller (University of Texas at Austin)

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