ECR Projects

Explore past and current fundamental STEM education research projects across the three research areas that NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program funds, as well as across ECR funding types. Other search filters draw from both NSF's data and the ECR Hub's hand coding of award abstracts.

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STEM Learning and Learning Environments STEM Learning and Learning Environments  Broadening Participation in STEM Broadening Participation in STEM

Self-Concept of Neurodivergent Undergraduate Students in STEM

Effective Years: 2023-2026

Self-concept is the set of ideas that people hold about who they are, how they behave, and who they have the potential to become. The self-concept of students has a strong impact on their academic success and persistence in higher education. This project aims to develop a tool to measure self-concept as a neurodivergent student in STEM and investigate its relationship to academic motivation and identification with STEM. Although a significant and growing number of undergraduates are neurodivergent, neurodivergent students continue to be underrepresented in STEM and disproportionately leave STEM disciplines. Only recently has national attention begun to shift towards supporting neurodivergent students in ways that go beyond providing legally-required accommodations as they develop positive self-concepts and engage in self-determined behaviors. This project plans to support that effort by providing a deeper understanding of the self-concept of neurodivergent STEM undergraduates. The research seeks also to illuminate ways in which STEM departments (partnering with campus disability resource centers / disability services offices) may cultivate, not only an accessibility-focused, but inclusion- and equity-focused culture for their neurodivergent students. Developing this culture is one means of supporting the persistence of neurodivergent students in STEM. This project will also involve the professional development and mentorship of the principal investigator, building the capacity of the principal investigator to conduct mixed methods education research focused on partnering with neurodivergent students to support their identity development and learning in STEM.

The self-concept scale under development will be based on an item pool developed by the principal investigator within existing theoretical frameworks of self-concept and models of disability, using an existing qualitative dataset of neurodivergent STEM students’ perspectives on disability. Items will first be evaluated by panels of experts and members from the study population. Then, the measure will be tested through cognitive interviews, followed by large-scale testing and validation based on internal structure through factor analysis. Finally, the measure will be examined for consequences of assessment with focus groups comprising disability resource center staff, STEM faculty/administrators, and neurodivergent students. Data will be collected from neurodivergent undergraduates at a range of institution types. As a potential benefit to participants and the broader community, throughout the project timeline, the research team will seek to engage neurodivergent undergraduate students and disability resource center staff through online discussion panel events with neurodivergent STEM graduate students and professionals meant to help contribute to students’ visions of their possible selves. For this individual investigator development grant, the principal investigator will be mentored by experts in psychometrics, neurodivergent students in higher education, and disabled students in STEM, while engaging in professional development workshops on scale development and structural equation modeling. The principal investigator will also work with an advisory board with a broader range of expertise related to the project. Through this mentorship, the principal investigator will build on their previous training in statistical analysis and their recent research on the experiences and learning of neurodivergent STEM undergraduates to develop core knowledge on scale development for this student population. The project is supported by NSF’s EDU Core Research Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program, which is designed to build investigators’ capacity to carry out high-quality STEM education research.

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.