KU News: Grant to support Indigenous students in STEM programs at KU, Haskell

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Sloan Foundation grant to support Indigenous students in STEM programs at KU, Haskell
LAWRENCE — A joint project of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University was selected to receive a $500,000 seed grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Indigenous Graduate Partnership. This project will support Indigenous students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees. The project aims to increase the number of Indigenous students — American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders — attaining graduate and undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.

Task demonstrability a key component for how groups solve problems most effectively, study shows
LAWRENCE — According to a new study of organizational teams, enhancing task demonstrability may be the key method for how an individual can convince a group to choose the correct solution to a problem. “In group decision-making, it can be so difficult to identify who we should listen to because we have all of these heuristics for who’s going to provide the best input,” said study co-author Nate Meikle, assistant professor of business at the University of Kansas. The work was published in the journal Organization Science.

Psychological lens reveals racial repression at heart of ‘Passing’
LAWRENCE – While many literary critics have found Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella “Passing” to be frustratingly opaque, and others have concentrated on its themes of same-sex attraction and class consciousness, an essay by a University of Kansas professor of English finds that racial repression is the focus of the work by analyzing it from a Freudian perspective. Doreen Fowler’s article was published in The South Atlantic Review.

Full stories below.

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Contact: Carrie Caine, Institute for Policy & Social Research, 785-864-9102, [email protected]
Sloan Foundation grant to support Indigenous students in STEM programs at KU, Haskell
LAWRENCE — A joint project of the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University was selected to receive a $500,000 seed grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Indigenous Graduate Partnership. This project will support Indigenous students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees. The project aims to increase the number of Indigenous students — American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders — attaining graduate and undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.
“The Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership is a tremendous opportunity to build and strengthen pathways for Indigenous students in STEM fields at KU,” said project leader Joseph Brewer II, associate professor of environmental studies and director of Indigenous Studies. “Our goal is not only to build this pathway but to create opportunity, and to address systemic inequities in STEM by supporting Indigenous students in best-practices and research-based protocols. Our overall goal is to shape a new, more inclusive future for Indigenous students in STEM fields.”
The project will help address a trend in higher education — the rapidly declining number of STEM field doctorates awarded to American Indian and Alaska Native students in the past 20 years. When this project phase is complete, KU and HINU will embark on a broader project to strengthen initiatives to increase the number of STEM degrees awarded to Indigenous students as part of the national Sloan Indigenous Partnership.
“We have a tremendous dual campus team at Haskell Indian Nations University and KU that are well suited to engage in these processes,” Brewer said. “The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has been successfully supporting Indigenous students in STEM for over 10 years now at universities around the country, and having the ability to tap into the national network through the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership is such a unique opportunity for KU students, staff and faculty.”
The project includes several interconnected initiatives, which collectively build on the decades-long history of the KU-HINU collaboration and the many existing programs at KU and HINU that support Indigenous students in higher education.
“Haskell Indian Nations University is very excited for the opportunities the Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership brings to Haskell students,” said Julia Good Fox, interim president and faculty member in Indigenous & American Indian studies.
Francis Arpan, vice president of academics at HINU, will lead the HINU team and said he welcomed this opportunity to expand educational options for Indigenous students.
The team will create a robust pathway for HINU students into graduate programs at KU through the efforts of a dedicated Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership program coordinator, Mica Mendez. The coordinator will organize workshops, work group meetings, conferences and special events. This work will help students transition from undergraduate to graduate STEM education and will improve the capacity of faculty and others to mentor Indigenous students. The project team will also offer workshops to strengthen faculty mentoring of Indigenous students.
The team will work to create a supportive and inclusive community of Indigenous STEM graduate students, including funding for scholarships to support seven Sloan Scholar graduate students.
This partnership will also create a new Sloan Undergraduate Student Program, expanding the existing exchange program between the two universities. This will connect HINU students to additional STEM courses as undergraduates so that they are better positioned to move into STEM programs as transfer students or graduate students.
“Graduate students play such a vital role in our institution — they bring new perspectives, approaches and innovative ideas that contribute to the groundbreaking research being done at our institution,” said project team member Jennifer Roberts, vice provost for academic affairs & graduate studies at KU and professor of geology. “We are so excited to support this program that will further strengthen our recruiting efforts of Indigenous graduate students into our STEM programs. We welcome the unique opportunities that this program will bring the student participants as well as the research and innovation that will result from these activities.”
Because this work will prepare for participation in the broader Sloan Indigenous Partnership, the project team will collaborate with the national SIGP leadership team. Currently, nine universities participate in this partnership, including Purdue University, University of Alaska (Anchorage and Fairbanks) and University of Montana. The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering administers the partnership.
The team includes representatives from KU and HINU. In addition to Brewer and Roberts, the KU team includes Jay Johnson, professor of geography & atmospheric science and director of the Center for Indigenous Research, Science & Technology; Paulyn Cartwright, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and director of the Office for Diversity in Science Training; Elaina Sutley, associate professor in civil, environmental & architectural engineering and associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion & belonging at the School of Engineering; Lori Hasselman, Native American Student Success coordinator, and Melissa Peterson, director of Tribal Relations for both of the University Academic Support Centers. From HINU, in addition to Arpan, the team includes Daniel Wildcat, faculty member in Indigenous & American studies and co-founder of the HERS internship program, and Josh Meisel, faculty member in geography & geographic information systems and instructor in the HERS program.
The KU Institute for Policy & Social Research supported the application and will help administer the project.
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Contact: Jon Niccum, KU News Service, 785-864-7633, [email protected]
Task demonstrability a key component for how groups solve problems most effectively, study shows
LAWRENCE — There is no “I” in team … but there is a “me.”
According to a new study of organizational teams, enhancing task demonstrability may be the key method for how an individual can convince a group to choose the correct solution to a problem.
“In group decision-making, it can be so difficult to identify who we should listen to because we have all of these heuristics for who’s going to provide the best input,” said Nate Meikle, assistant professor of business at the University of Kansas.
“We have conflicting motivations, too. I might want to get the right answer, but I also might want to please my boss more than I want to get the right answer.”
His paper titled “The Theory and Measurement of Expertise-Based Problem Solving in Organizational Teams: Revisiting Demonstrability” concludes that the more group members are able to enhance demonstrability — a four-step process that includes demonstrating the correctness of one’s proposals and recognizing the correctness of others’ proposals — the better decisions the group will make. It’s published in Organization Science.
“Demonstrability was a theoretical construct that we’ve tried to make more organizationally accessible by providing a measurement tool for researchers and decision-makers to build on and use when making decisions,” said Meikle, who co-wrote the paper with Bryan Bonner and Kathryn Coll of the University of Utah, Daniel Shannahan of Northern State University and Kristin Bain of the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“Research shows that for groups to make optimal decisions, they need to find the expert and listen to that expert. Demonstrability does a nice job of emphasizing that point. We need to find the person who has the best answer, and then we all need to listen to that person,” Meikle said.
He gives an example of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. A 14-person team was commissioned to uncover the cause of the tragedy. But this wasn’t solved until physicist Richard Feynman brought a sample of the material used in the O-rings of booster rockets, small clamps and a glass of ice water to a meeting. He demonstrated that when he compressed the O-ring material and put it in the liquid, it remained temporarily compressed, making clear its inability to seal at low temperatures — a fatal design flaw.
For Meikle’s research, his team created 42 statements that represented different aspects of demonstrability, such as, “My group had a shared understanding of what we were trying to do.” He then had approximately 200 people read each of the statements and rate the degree to which each of these fit with the descriptions of the four elements of demonstrability. The ratings were used to identify 12 statements that best described such elements. Next, a separate group of approximately 200 people used a team project they had worked on to rate their group on each of the items.
“Because there had been no way to measure demonstrability, everything was theoretical. It had always made logical sense. But it hadn’t been empirically tested. Now we have a measure that people can build on,” Meikle said.
“Organizations can now use this measure and say, ‘Hey, if we want to enhance demonstrability, let’s look at the 12 demonstrability items to see where we might want to focus.’ You administer that to your group and find out where they rate on the different items, and then you can say, ‘Looks like our group really needs to improve step two information sufficiency or some social factors from step four.’”
A native of Idaho, Meikle came to KU last year. He is a former receiver with the BYU Cougars. (He caught a dozen passes in the 2005 Las Vegas Bowl.) He also has a podcast titled “Meikles and Dimes,” where he shares findings gleaned from social science. He teaches courses in leadership and ethics at KU.
Can demonstrability techniques also be applied to a football team, for instance?
“Maybe we have a rookie join our team, and they’re sharing something and they don’t have the status that the established veteran has. We might not pay that rookie as much attention, and now our decision-making process and final outcome might suffer because of it,” he said. “This demonstrability framework shows us how to improve that. So in football, we can imagine the offensive coordinator and the offensive coaches using the demonstrability construct to try to figure out which play to run when. Or the head coach and his staff using the construct to determine who to draft and why.”
Meikle believes this research is relevant anywhere a collective is contemplating difficult choices.
“Every company considers, ‘Who are we going to hire and what market opportunity should we pursue? How are we going to improve employee morale, and how are we going to improve retention?’ Many of these decisions are group decisions that can be improved by running the decision through the lens of demonstrability,” Meikle said.
“In a perfect world, the goal is to make the best group decision possible.”
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Contact: Rick Hellman, KU News Service, 785-864-8852, [email protected], @RickHellman
Psychological lens reveals racial repression at heart of ‘Passing’
LAWRENCE – While many literary critics have found Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella “Passing” to be frustratingly opaque, and others have concentrated on its themes of same-sex attraction and class consciousness, an essay by a University of Kansas professor of English finds that racial repression is the focus of the novel by analyzing it from a Freudian perspective.
Doreen Fowler said she believed that the shift to a psychological reading explains why the two main characters — Irene, who lives as a Black woman, and Clare, who passes for white — are doubled.
In an article titled “Racial Repression and Doubling in Nella Larsen’s Passing” in the latest edition of The South Atlantic Review, Fowler wrote that the main character, Irene Redfield, “works to erase signs of her black identity — but those signs of blackness return to haunt her in the form of her double, Clare. While many scholars have recognized that Irene is ambivalent about her African American iden¬tity and that Clare and Irene are doubled, my original contribution is to link the two. In my reading, Clare is Irene’s uncanny double because she figures the return of Irene’s rejected desire to fully integrate with the black race.”
Fowler said Larsen, who worked as a nurse and was acquainted with then-popular Freudian theories, structured the novella from Irene’s point of view, and that what other critics call confusing passages filled with ellipses are meant to show the reader the main character’s distorted thinking.
“That’s why there is so much opaqueness and unknown in this novel,” Fowler said, “because whatever Irene refuses to know is withheld from the reader.”
The KU researcher said, “I think the whole novel is characterized by repression, and particularly racial oppression is repressed. According to Freud, when you repress something, it returns in a disguised form, often the double.
“Clare is the one who is passing,” Fowler said, “and you would expect that Clare is an example of repression. But I argue that she is the return of the repressed because she really wants to be with Black people. She wants full solidarity with Black people.”
Fowler, who often approaches literature through a psychological lens, said that while the book is over 90 years old, it’s not surprising that Netflix chose to release a filmed version of “Passing” less than a year ago.
“I think ‘Passing’ is relevant today,” Fowler said, “because there is racism in our culture, and racism is a repression — a refusal to recognize that Black people are people just like white people. I think Larsen teaches this in her novel. In the novel, not only white people repress Black people, but what Larsen calls Negro society, upper-class Blacks, repress full solidarity with an oppressed, racialized people. They don’t want to be marginalized. So there is a scene in the novel when Irene’s Black husband is talking to his sons about a lynching, and Irene stops him because she doesn’t want to know that there is racial oppression in the United States.”
Without giving away any spoilers, Fowler believes the novella’s ambiguous conclusion – often decried by critics who feel denied of closure — is simply another indication of Irene’s psychological repression.
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