By Erin Cogswell
UNT College of Science assistant professor Molly Atkinson is studying ways to build more equitable educational pathways in chemistry for underserved communities.
Atkinson’s work is being funded by a $75,000 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant – the first research grant in her professional career. She will use the one-year grant to identify programs and other support mechanisms that encourage Black, Indigenous and Latine students from two-year colleges to transfer to four-year universities and pursue graduate degrees in chemistry.
As a designated Hispanic-Serving and Minority-Serving Institution, UNT is dedicated to helping all students thrive on campus and is especially focused on increasing opportunity for those historically underserved by higher education.
Repeated calls for increasing diversity in STEM education and the STEM workforce have focused on the idea that doing so would promote innovation. However, Atkinson said it’s important that everyone be provided with the tools to pursue their interests. That means creating equitable structures with the community in mind.
“Encouraging diversity in education is our responsibility as educators who have some power to foster growth and change,” she says. “Even more fundamental is our obligation as members of our community to combat systems of oppression where we have the power and privilege to do so. We cannot assume that students can figure out how to succeed if we ignore systemic barriers and inequities.”
Atkinson’s team, which also includes UNT chemistry faculty members Adriana Corrales and Rebecca Weber, will investigate current pathways and support for transfer students at Dallas College and UNT, gather data through interviews with stakeholders — such as students, staff and faculty in that transfer process — and develop additional support structures through collaboration with these stakeholders.
Atkinson hopes to produce actionable and sustainable change regarding support for transfer students that will have lasting effects beyond the initial transfer process. The frameworks guiding their research emphasize connectedness and collaboration with the communities they intend to serve through research and development. Because of this, they plan to develop partnerships with the community and include perspectives at all levels of that community, including — and especially — students.
Atkinson, Corrales and Weber conduct chemistry education research (CER) on the teaching and learning of chemistry through a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods. CER includes a broad range of areas, such as the investigation of student understanding of chemistry; equitable teaching and learning of chemistry; the design of chemistry curricula and measuring the impact of transformed curricula.
Sloan Foundation grants primarily support original research and education related to the STEM and economics fields. The foundation has pledged to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in these fields by actively seeking out grant applicants who are members of underrepresented groups in their areas of study and increasing engagement with Minority-Serving Institutions, among other initiatives.