Improving Persistence of Underserved Students in Psychological Science Using an AI-Based, Personalized Career Exploration Platform
Effective Years: 2023-2028
The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) program is a National Science Foundation-wide activity that offers awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization, and to build a foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research. This CAREER project aims to broaden participation in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce by examining how artificial intelligence (AI) can be harnessed to improve persistence in STEM. Specifically, the project uses an online intervention to facilitate students’ career exploration using conversational virtual agents (“virtual mentors”) recorded by real-life STEM professionals. Students choose and engage with virtual mentors to learn about their career paths, experiences, and advice. The study models processes that promote STEM persistence over time for students who have historically been underserved in STEM fields of study. Based on interactions with virtual mentors, students receive personalized follow-up and resources for career development. This longitudinal research study is conducted at California State University, Fullerton, a large public Hispanic-Serving Institution, with a focus on students majoring in the psychological sciences.
The project is co-funded by the Directorate for STEM Education Core Research (ECR) program, which supports work that advances fundamental research on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development, and the HSI Program, which aims to enhance undergraduate STEM education and build capacity at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). The study uses a prospective, longitudinal, mixed-methods approach, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data across a period of four years and gathering insights from existing literature on STEM persistence and learning sciences. The project establishes a framework for modeling psychological and behavioral processes that predict observed STEM persistence over time and develops a personalized, online intervention for career exploration using AI. Models of STEM persistence and a tailored, AI-based intervention for diverse student bodies will result from this study. Findings will be widely disseminated to encourage adoption and adaptation of future AI applications in other STEM disciplines.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.