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How the TEAM-UP Report Can Help You

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The 2020 TEAM-UP Report identified five factors that impede African American student retention in physics and astronomy programs. The summary below outlines how departments and faculty can become forces for change.

Researched and written by a team of scientists and educators, the 2020 TEAM-UP Report report found that African Americans’ under-participation in physics and astronomy could best be addressed by focusing on the following factors:

1. Belonging

The climate of the physics department is very non-inclusive of people of color... They would say [things] like ‘You should change your major.
Student survey respondent

Faculty and peer interactions have a powerful effect on students’ retention in, or departure from, the major. Their sense of belonging increases with the number of faculty who get to know students as individuals and demonstrate support for their success.

What faculty and departments can do

  • Learn, practice and improve skills that foster student belonging in your interactions with African American undergraduates.
  • Establish clear rules of engagement that ensure everyone is welcomed and valued, convey that inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated, and enforce consequences for negative behavior.
  • Provide spaces and opportunities for education and ongoing discussion among faculty and students on ways to actively foster a sense of belonging and reduce barriers to inclusion.

2. Physics Identity

I haven’t had a Black STEM professor yet. That’s one thing that I envy [about] people that go to HBCUs, that they have that type of connection.
Student survey respondent

To persist, African American students must perceive themselves, and be perceived by others, as future physicists and astronomers.

What faculty and departments can do

  • Provide opportunities for students to engage in research or serve as Learning Assistants or tutors to improve their own learning, strengthen their physics identity, and offset financial challenges.
  • Invite speakers with demonstrated research expertise in physics identity development. Work on evidence-based ways to strengthen students’ sense of physics identity, including providing encouragement and recognition to your students.[JS8] [AMK9]
  • Ask what activities your department currently engages in to foster physics identity. Assess their efficacy across race, ethnicity, gender and other social identities and modify as needed.
  • A diverse faculty of varying identities is the best way to support underrepresented students.

3. Academic Support

When you know someone, you look out for them.
Faculty member survey respondent

Effective teaching and a strengths-based approach to academic support are necessary for African American student retention and success.

What faculty and departments can do

  • Encourage and support all new faculty to attend workshops on teaching and mentoring, such as the Faculty Teaching Institute (formerly the New Faculty Workshop)hosted by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), in conjunction with the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the American Physical Society (APS).
  • Adopt policies and practices that encourage multiple faculty, including those who are not members of marginalized groups, to engage in formal and informal mentoring of students, and they should recognize and reward these efforts.[JS10] [AMK11] Join the APS National Mentoring Community to mentor students from underrepresented groups.
  • Undergraduate advisers should work closely with central advising offices to ensure students facing academic, financial, and other difficulties can find the support they need.
  • Assess recruitment activities and curricular pathways to identify points at which students leave before graduation, then develop actionable plans to increase the persistence of all students to the degree. One tool for this is Physics & Astronomy SEA Change
  • Provide information about support services written in a manner that is accessible and understandable by all students.

4. Personal Support

I am paying the cost of college on my own, so that is continuous financial stress. Working 20-plus hours a week, including overnights. Continuous and worsening mental health issues. Personal tragedies. Living at home in a non-ideal situation. Lack of support from the college/department. Administrative issues with the college.
Student survey respondent

Many African American students need support to offset financial burdens and stress.

What faculty and departments can do

  • Identify campus resources for emergency financial aid, conference travel and other unmet needs and help students take advantage of them. Consider the NMC Beam Fund.
  • Seek funding for undergraduate students to work in research groups or as Learning Assistants, and find other ways to help students advance academically while earning money.
  • Normalize seeking help for mental health by discussing stress and self-care with students and referring them to campus services.
  • Recognize students as individuals with unique and intersecting social identities and experiences, such as being a first-generation college student or working to support a family, and tailor supports to their particular needs

5. Leadership and Structures

When we asked faculty in departments that were highly successful in graduating African American physics students how they achieved their strong collective results, several noted that their department recruited faculty whose values and vision were aligned with the department’s mission.
Authors of the 2020 TEAM-UP Report

For sustainability, academic and disciplinary leaders must prioritize creating environments, policies and structures that maximize African American student success.

What department leaders can do

  • Set norms and values of inclusion and belonging; recruit, develop and support a diverse faculty; and oversee structures, policies and practices that enhance the success of African American students.
  • Identify, partner with, financially support and advocate for campus programs that may already provide a scaffolding for student belonging, STEM identify development and academic support of African American students.
  • Encourage students to utilize campus resources – such as student affairs offices, dual-degree programs, research funding programs, multicultural centers, tutoring centers, etc.
  • Provide incentives and rewards to multiple faculty members, including those who are not members of marginalized groups, who actively support underrepresented students.

Dig deeper by reading the TEAM-UP Report

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