The Impact of Pre-College Outreach Activities of Colleges and Universities:

Project No.
PI Name
Philip Sadler
Harvard University

Abstract 1

The Impact of Pre-College Outreach Activities of Colleges and Universities:

Presentation Type
Philip Sadler, Harvard University, Smithsonian Institution Gerhard Sonnert, Harvard University


Assessing the influence of the outreach activities of a particular STEP outreach project requires collecting information from students about their career intentions at different points in time, ideally carried out as a longitudinal study measuring pre- and post-interest in a STEM career. However, limitations in the number of participating students, lack of an appropriate control groups, subjectsメ gratitude for the opportunity of involvement, and the difficulty in following subjects over time can make this approach problematic. Instead,


OPSCI investigates the impact on participating students of similar outreach approaches used by many STEP institutions. OPSCI uses as a control group students who did not participate, but have similar backgrounds and level of interest in a STEM career. Rather than evaluating impact of one particular project, as is typically the responsibility of each NSF-supported project, OPSCI studies the impact of project types and characteristics that are common across many different STEP initiatives. Conveniently, the field of public health has developed robust epidemiological methods by which multiple influences or exposures can be used to model outcomes, while controlling for subject backgrounds. The retrospective cohort study is particularly useful when randomized control trials are difficult to conduct for practical (or ethical) reasons. The OPSCI project is carrying out this kind of study with data collected from 15,847 students at 27 STEP institutions. The systematic procedure involves sequential steps:
ユ Identifying hypothesized precollege experiences that influence STEM career interest through surveys of key stakeholders, college students and STEP project staff.
ユ Mining the research literature to identify student background variables that are associated with career interest and may predispose students to participate in STEM outreach activities.
ユ Creating, refining, and validating a machine-readable, 8-page survey instrument that gathers data on student career interest over time, their background, and their participation in outreach activities.
ユ Administering the survey to a sample of first-year college students in a mandatory classes (e.g., freshman English) at STEP institutions, so that both STEM-interested and STEM-avoidant subjects are properly represented.
ユ Connecting to other available datasets to create derived variables (e.g., using student ZIP codes generate community socio-economic status indicators, and equating SAT and ACT scores)
ユ Modeling changes in student STEM career interest, while controlling for background, based on the degree of their participation in college and university outreach activities.


OPSCI researchers are currently investigating STEP outreach activities, as well as underlying measures of student identity and performance. Individual OPSCI research projects, including those currently underway, share the goal of publication in peer-reviewed publications:
ユ The Academic Performance Index: Creating a More Robust and Less Biased Measure of Student Academic Performance*
ユ The influence of out-of-school time high school experiences on engineering identities and career choice*
ユ Disciplinary differences in out-of-school high school science experiences and influence on studentsメ engineering choices**
ユ Persistence and change in studentsメ astronomy career interests: A gender study**
ユ Development of an indicator of studentsメ affinity for interdisciplinary learning experiences (i.e., interest and desire to integrate information and perspectives from multiple disciplines)***
ユ Interdisciplinary Affinity: Definitions and Connections to Physics Identity***
ユ Chasing Polys: Interdisciplinary Affinity and its Connection to Physics Identity****
ユ Between high school and college: The impact of summer bridge programs on student retention in STEM
ユ The impact of pre-college classroom visits by STEM faculty and college students on career choice
ユ How structured STEM experiences at colleges and universities impact high school student career choice
ユ Engineering and science competitionsメ influence on high school studentsメ interest in a STEM career
ユ Taking college courses while in high school: How does Dual Credit effect STEM career interest compared to in-school AP and IB Coursework
ユ Role Models: The differential impact of teacher gender on male and female high school studentsメ STEM career interest
*Accepted for publication in journal or peer-reviewed conference proceedings
** Submitted to journal or peer-reviewed conference proceedings
***Preliminary results presented as poster at professional meeting
****Accepted doctoral dissertation

Unexpected Challenges



1. Godwin, Allison, Tyler Scott, Geoff Potvin, Gerhard Sonnert, and Philip M. Sadler. 'The Academic Performance Index: Creating a More Robust and Less Biased Measure of Student Academic Performance.' Proceedings of the 45th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, El Paso, TX, 2015. (accepted for publication)

2. Godwin, Allison, Gerhard Sonnert, and Philip M. Sadler. 'The Influence of Out-of-School High School Experiences on Engineering Identities and Career Choice.' Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual International Conference, Seattle, WA, 2015. (accepted for publication)

3. Scott, Tyler D., Zahra Hazari, Geoff Potvin, Philip M. Sadler, and Gerhard Sonnert. 'Interdisciplinary Affinity: Definitions and Connections to Physics Identity.' Proceedings of the Physics Education Research Conference, Minneapolis, MN, 2014.