Lauren Wetzell, a PhD student in the College of Education (COE) Department of Educational Psychology (EDEP), is part of a $5 million S-STEM grant from the National Science Foundation. Co-written with Dr. Robert Richmond, Director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory (KML), the project aims to provide support to low-income community college students from five U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands and their transfer to the University of Hawaiʻi.
“We were so excited to learn that NSF awarded Lauren and her colleagues this funding to promote Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders pursuing marine and environmental sciences,” EDEP Chair Lois Yamauchi said. “Her dissertation research focusing on the mentoring of community college students in Palau is important work that will help to advance STEM education among underrepresented students.”
Serving as co-principal investigator, Wetzell will work full-time on the project while completing her dissertation. Her contributions to the research component of the project are the culmination of papers she wrote in her EDEP classes. The focus of her dissertation explores how marine/environmental science students’ experiences of academic and cultural mentorship affect their feelings of science-identity, self-efficacy, and belongingness in their science career trajectories across one semester.
“My research follows the experiences of five students who participated in weekly encounters in which their traditional values were represented in culturally meaningful ways while they navigated Western knowledge systems that have historically dominated STEM fields,” Wetzell said. “Using this research, the NSF S-STEM grant will reach an anticipated 250 students in the Pacific Island region.
Before joining the EDEP program, Wetzell had a 10-year career in marine science. She learned of the many socio-cultural challenges of students pursuing STEM careers while living and working in American Sāmoa and New Zealand.
“I wanted to serve the students in more culturally relevant and meaningful ways, but I needed formal academic training,” Wetzell said. “The EDEP program has helped me learn the fundamentals of educational theories and the statistical skills to be effective in educational assessment. Former EDEP Chair Dr. Kathy Ratliffe has been instrumental in helping me improve my technical writing and confidence to co-write the NSF grant project.”