To Increase Diversity in STEM, Consider a Collaborative Learning Approach

September 23, 2020

By Taylor Braswell ’21

Taylor Braswell.When I first started as an undergraduate at Duke, I knew I was not going to participate in any research. The research I knew in my head all reminded me of the chemistry and biology labs I was taking, therefore I assumed all research fell into those categories.

It wasn’t until I joined my Bass Connections team, however, that I realized I was completely wrong.

As a Black woman in STEM, I witness the underrepresentation of people like me in my field very often. When Dr. Ng approached me about the research this Bass Connections team was doing on this topic, I was more than happy to join. Bass Connections helped me realize that there was so much more to research than chemicals and DNA sequences.

One of the highlights of my Bass Connections team is that we all came from various different backgrounds, which added significant contributions to the meaning behind our research. We all knew one thing was for certain – there is a lack of diversity in the STEM field, and we needed to find some way to solve it.

Based on past research, team-based learning seemed to be an effective step in that direction. Therefore, we centered our research around how course structure can affect learning experiences in STEM classrooms.

By far the most rewarding aspect of this Bass Connections experience was being able to present our research. Our results were promising – they showed that students in higher-structured courses felt an increased sense of belonging and community, among other things. This was a huge deal to me because it’s harder to feel like you belong somewhere when you don’t see people like you around. Having that increased sense of community and belonging prompts you to stay, which is exactly what underrepresented students need in STEM fields.

Taylor Braswell and colleagues.
Taylor Braswell with fellow team members at the Teaching for Active and Engaged Learning 2020 Lilly Conference in San Diego, February 2020

Because of these results, I was eager to present them to as many people as possible. We were all elated when Dr. Newpher and Ben Thier got selected to present our findings at TEDxDuke 2020. We were even more excited when we were selected to present at a conference in San Diego.

Bass Connections taught me a lot about myself. It helped me focus on what my passions are. I love majoring in STEM, but I can’t sit here and say there weren’t times I wanted to quit because I felt like I didn’t belong. My Bass Connections team not only reignited my passion for STEM but helped me realize it is possible to do research in fields that you’re passionate about – no test tubes necessary.

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Taylor Braswell is a Psychology major and a Neuroscience minor. She is Co-President of Duke LIFE, Director of Communications for Duke BSA, and a student assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies.