NSF ECR-EHR Core Research: An Investigator Development Plan for Building Capacity to Explore Diverse Microcultures in Graduate Engineering Research Laboratories (NSF #1937738)

Project’s NSF Page


Cheryl Gomillion, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor
Joachim Walther, Ph.D. - EETI Founding Director, Professor of Engineering Education
Nicola Sochacka, Ph.D. - Former EETI Associate Director for Research Initiation and Enablement

Grant Details

Funder: Division of Graduate Education, National Science Foundation
Amount: $342,101.00
Award number: 1937738
Start and End date: January 2020 – December 2023


The proposal focuses on fundamental STEM education research that examines broadening participation and STEM workforce training in engineering graduate programs. The research will contribute to expanding the current understanding of the characteristics and functioning of STEM research labs (microcultures) that may impact the success of underrepresented graduate students. The Principal Investigator has designed a professional development plan that will support individual capacity building in the field of engineering education research. To achieve the goal of understanding the best practices in supporting students from underrepresented groups, the investigator’s professional plan focuses on increasing her experience with ethnographic research methodology and training in qualitative research. The professional development plan includes a mentoring team of advisors and consultants and activities that will provide preparation in qualitative research methods. The outcome of the professional development plan will be to increase the investigator’s capacity to complete the proposed research project and build expertise to contribute to the engineering education research knowledge base.

The research will apply ethnographic or autoethnographic methods to collect evidence of graduate student experiences in high impact research labs and to examine the factors that contribute to the formation of a cohesive research team and supportive environment. The study will investigate the features, behavior and best practices connected with the experiences of graduate students who are members of diverse STEM research labs. A conceptual framework focused on investigating communities of practice and socialization, using ethnographic methods, will be applied to conduct research on graduate student experiences in research labs. The expected impact includes informing best practices that can provide diverse and inclusive settings for underrepresented students. The long-term trajectory of the research is to expand the understanding of micro-cultures in graduate education to support the goal of broadening participation in the STEM workforce. An expected outcome of this project includes building capacity of the individual PI to pursue fundamental STEM education research projects that can advance current knowledge about broadening participating and STEM workforce development.

The project is supported through the EHR Core Research: Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) competition that is designed to build individuals’ capacity to carry out high quality fundamental STEM education research in STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.

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