University of Maryland project to explore race, religion, and science

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At the University of Maryland, researchers are launching 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’s a first comprehensive look at what might steer or deter black undergraduate and graduate students from pursuing careers in STEM fields. Other studies have failed to consider race and especially the perspectives of black students.

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

Park is conducting the research in collaboration with Keon McGuire, associate professor of higher and post-secondary education at Arizona State University; Elizabeth Barnes, teaching assistant professor of biology at Middle Tennessee State University; and Robert Palmer, department chair and associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University.

Barnes added that there is a common concern that if a student pursues a science degree, they will encounter challenges during their studies that will compromise their religious faith, especially in areas like biology, where subjects like Evolution and bioethics are taught but the instructors are generally religiously unaffiliated.

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

The team will interview black undergraduate students majoring in STEM at several traditionally white institutions and at a historically black college or university. Additionally, they will interview black students not majoring in STEM to determine whether religious perspectives or experiences have deterred them from entering the sciences. Additionally, Black STEM graduate students will be asked to identify how Black individuals negotiate perspectives on religion and science as they progress through advanced training.

The research team’s goal is to use the findings to engage black students in STEM, for example by increasing partnerships with black churches and mosques. They also hope their work will be used in training and professional development resources for K-12 teachers and educators. “Black student participation in STEM remains woefully low,” Palmer said in a statement. “Our findings may have important implications for helping higher education institutions and pre-K-12 schools create better conditions to champion Black student success in STEM.”

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