Designing a mindset intervention to help underrepresented students thrive in introductory college science courses

Hecht, Cameron A.
Latham, Anita G.
Buskirk, Ruth E.
Hansen, Debra R.
Yeager, David S.
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University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center
Demand for professionals with skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields continues to grow in the United States. But many undergraduate STEM majors, especially underrepresented minority and first-generation college students, drop out or change majors before graduating. Students’ mindsets, or their assumptions, beliefs, or perspectives that shape how they interpret and respond to their academic environment, are potential barriers to success. Mindset interventions have shown promise for improving undergraduate students’ academic outcomes and promoting diversity in STEM. However, mindset interventions need to be customized to maximize their impact. PRC postdoctoral fellow Cameron Hecht and PRC faculty scholar David Yeager, along with UT Austin biology instructor collaborators, designed a protocol to develop customized peer-modeled mindset interventions for specific college courses, in which current students hear from former students about the changes in thinking that helped them to be successful. Using the protocol, the authors designed an intervention for introductory biology and found that it improved students’ experiences and outcomes in the course, particularly among students who have been historically underrepresented in the STEM fields. These findings highlight the positive impact of students hearing the right story at the right time from a trusted source.