General chemistry has a terrible reputation on most college campuses. It’s seen as a killer—a place where dreams of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) go to die.
Now the data have spoken, and their message is clear: the bad rep is justified. And the numbers are especially bleak for students who are underrepresented in STEM. Women, underrepresented minority racial and ethnic groups, individuals from low-socioeconomic-status households and students who will be the first person in their family with a four-year degree are all getting pounded in general chemistry. In some cases, they experience achievement gaps of more than half a grade point.
But gloom doesn’t have to equate to doom. The data my research group analyzed also say that if underrepresented students pass general chemistry with even an “okay” grade—in most cases, a C+ at minimum—they persist in the general chemistry sequence, and thus stay in STEM training tracks, at much higher rates than overrepresented individuals who get the same grades. When compared with their peers, the underrepresented “hyperpersist.” They show grit. And changes to how we teach can lift more underrepresented students into that hyperpersistent zone.
Read the full article in Scientific American.