KU News: Study shows how math, science identity in students affects college, career outcomes

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Study shows how math, science identity in students affects college, career outcomes
LAWRENCE — The results of a new study from the University of Kansas suggest the importance of fostering positive attitudes toward math and science early in students’ life to address gender and socioeconomic gaps in STEM. The data analysis also showed that the odds of expecting a career in a STEM field was about 50% lower for women than men and that there was a significant interaction between science identity in school and gender when predicting science, technology, engineering and math occupations.

Longest and ‘wildest’ Greek epic receives first English translation by renowned team
LAWRENCE — The newly published “Tales of Dionysus: The Dionysiaca of Nonnus of Panopolis” is the first English verse translation of the longest poem surviving from the classical world. Stanley Lombardo, University of Kansas professor emeritus of classics, and his co-editor assembled 42 translators who interpret the work, showcasing the diverse possibilities open to classical material when viewed from a modern perspective.

School of Social Welfare launches new Center for Research to Transform Systems for Family, Community & Social Justice
LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare has launched a new center housed within the school’s research office. The Center for Research to Transform Systems for Family, Community & Social Justice brings together a group of KU social work researchers to work collaboratively on projects to transform the child welfare system.

Full stories below.

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Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860, [email protected], @MikeKrings
Study shows how math, science identity in students affects college, career outcomes
LAWRENCE — If you ask someone if they are a math or science person, they may quickly tell you yes or no. It turns out that how people answer that question in ninth grade and even earlier not only can tell you what subjects they prefer in school, but how likely they are to go on to study STEM subjects in college and work in those fields as adults. The results of a new study from the University of Kansas suggest the importance of fostering positive attitudes toward math and science early in students’ life to address gender and socioeconomic gaps in STEM.
KU researchers analyzed a nationwide data set that asked students if they consider themselves a math and/or science person in ninth grade in 2009. The survey then followed up with those students in 11th grade to ask the same question, then three years after graduation to see who had enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors, and whether they intended to have a related career when they turned 30. The results not only support the importance of student attitudes on academic outcomes, but they also suggest efforts should be focused more on cultivating positive attitudes earlier in student careers, before they get to college, where most of such efforts happen currently.
Rafael Quintana, assistant professor of educational psychology, and Argun Saatcioglu, professor of educational policy and sociology, both at KU, conducted a study in which they analyzed data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009. The data set includes responses from more than 21,000 students from about 940 schools across the United States. The study was published in the journal Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World.
Results showed that the odds of enrolling in a STEM major were 1.78 times larger for students with a science identity in ninth grade and 1.66 times larger for those with a math identity than those who did not identify with the subjects. The odds of expecting a career in STEM was 1.69 times larger and 1.6 times larger for those with high science and math identities, respectively.
Those numbers are illustrative of how having positive experiences with math and science early can be influential both in higher education and later in life, the researchers said.
“What do we mean when we say education has long-lasting effects? That’s something we want to think about longitudinally,” Quintana said. “Those early experiences get ‘under the skin,’ as they are related to later outcomes independently of how these attitudes developed later. What this suggests is one, the importance of identity beliefs for career-related decisions, and two, that early experiences can have long-lasting, potentially irreversible effects.”
The data also showed that, when controlling for all other variables, the odds of expecting a career in a STEM field was about 50% lower for women than men and that there was a significant interaction between science identity in school and gender when predicting STEM occupation. In other words, it was more consequential for men to identify with science in ninth grade, as they were more likely to go on to a career in the sciences. Research has long noted a gender gap and socioeconomic inequalities in STEM, but most efforts have focused on how to address them among college students. While those efforts are just, Quintana said, the study results suggest it is important to take measures to address math and science inequities earlier in life as well.
Schools can play a long-term role in helping students believe they can have a career in STEM and visualize such a possibility. By providing equitable access to math and science programs, they can also provide chances to those who may not otherwise get them, the researchers said.
“We want schools to matter and have a consequential effect,” Saatcioglu said. “If you can get kids thinking they are a math or science person through positive experiences, that can have long-term effects. If you can get students to feel that way, it can be beneficial. The key in this study was Rafael was able to isolate the long-term effects of attitudes from ninth grade.”
The attitudes students hold in early high school are key, as they have a cascading effect.
“For example, individuals’ self- perceptions can affect the courses they take, the effort and time they spend on specific subjects and the interests and aspirations they develop,” the authors wrote. “These attitudes and behaviors can shape individuals career trajectories independently of their future identity beliefs. This ramification of causal effects is what generates the cascading and potentially irreversible consequences of early-life experiences.”
Quintana, who uses longitudinal data analysis to study problems in education and human development, said he also hopes to revisit the data in the future to see where those in the data set are now, and how many are still working in STEM fields. Such analysis could also be applied to understand other early educational experiences such as bullying and how they influence later choices, attitudes and career pathways.
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Contact: Jon Niccum, KU News Service, 785-864-7633, [email protected]
Longest and ‘wildest’ Greek epic receives first English translation by renowned team
LAWRENCE — Dionysus. The Greco-Roman deity is colloquially known as the god of wine, but he’s actually the god of all passions.
“Well, you could say sex and alcohol primarily. They often go together,” said Stanley Lombardo, professor emeritus of the Department of Classics at the University of Kansas.
“But he’s simply the embodiment of being diverse, unpredictable and wild. ‘Who knows what’s going to come next?’ That’s the Dionysiac spirit. And it’s enacted in this epic.”
That epic is titled “Tales of Dionysus: The Dionysiaca of Nonnus of Panopolis.” It emerges as the first English verse translation of the longest poem surviving from the classical world. Lombardo and co-editor William Levitan, professor emeritus at Grand Valley State University, assemble 42 translators who interpret the work, showcasing the diverse possibilities open to classical material when viewed from a modern perspective. It’s published by the University of Michigan Press.
Lombardo describes the “Dionysiaca” as “the last and by far the lengthiest and wildest of ancient epics.” The volume encompasses 48 books and 20,426 lines, composed in Homeric dialect and verse form.
“It represents an essential part of literary history that seems to have been completely forgotten,” he said. “We all know that everything begins with Homer. If you ask somebody, ‘How does Greek literature end? Does it just peter out?’ No. It goes out with a bang.”
The editors recruited dozens of translators to help with this ambitious project, most taking one or two of the individual books. Contributors include luminaries such as Canadian writer Anne Carson (“The Beauty of the Husband”), as well as 16 additional individuals with KU ties as faculty and/or graduates.
Lombardo translates the 48th and final chapter. It’s a section he characterizes as filled with “violence, sex and divine shenanigans.”
Is that typical of the poem in general?
“You might say there’s a little bit too much violence and maybe not enough sex,” he said.
“There’s plenty of both. But when you think of Dionysus, you usually don’t think of war. If you consider war as a passion, then you understand the Dionysiac connection. … For most people’s tastes, and certainly for mine, there’s a little too much war. He never tires describing battles. Of course, that’s in the tradition of epic poetry in Greece. For instance, ‘The Iliad’ is 25 percent battle scenes.”
Nonnus of Panopolis (in Egypt) wrote “Dionysiaca” in the fifth century. This makes his work as near in time to the Renaissance as it is to Homer. Stylistically, it’s also comparable to Homer’s work.
“He writes in Homeric terms. To read it out loud, it sounds like Homer. It’s very good at imitating him in many other ways,” Lombardo said.
Interestingly, Nonnus himself is a historical enigma.
Lombardo said, “We don’t quite know who he is. Scholars can’t agree. But then again, we don’t know who Homer is at all.”
First coming to KU in 1976, Lombardo became world-renowned in the field for his literary translation of Homer’s “Iliad,” which he followed with Homer’s “Odyssey,” Virgil’s “Aeneid,” Dante’s “Inferno” and Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” among others. He retired from his full-time position at KU in 2014. The New Orleans native is also recognized as a Zen master in the Kwan Um School of Zen.
Ultimately, he hopes “Tales of Dionysus” will remind modern audiences of the power and beauty of this bold material.
“I want to let people know there was an extraordinary poet who somehow lapsed into the darkness. This is true not only for the general public; most classists have heard of Nonnus but never really looked at him. They wouldn’t even think of teaching him. I’m still struggling to understand that. How could this have just dropped out of canon?” Lombardo said.
“I hope to spread the word that Greek literature did go out with quite a bang. This is certainly not a whimper.”
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Contact: Kendyl Grender, School of Social Welfare, [email protected], @KUSocialWelfare
School of Social Welfare launches new Center for Research to Transform Systems for Family, Community & Social Justice
LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare has launched a new center housed within the school’s research office. The Center for Research to Transform Systems for Family, Community & Social Justice (CRTS) brings together a group of KU social work researchers to work collaboratively on research projects to transform the child welfare system.
CRTS focuses on a multisystem, multisector approach to child welfare. The center aims to transform the child welfare system by proactively listening to the needs and aspirations of communities and works collaboratively to create a proactive, responsive and equitable network of services and supports. This updated approach to child welfare within research and practice provides a more positive environment for all parties involved with child welfare situations. Within these “equitable ecosystems” — focused on family well-being —CRTS works to evolve the entire system to become intentional in keeping families intact and children safe.
CRTS uses anti-racist, anti-oppressive methods in its research and is committed to working toward racial, social and environmental justice. The founding principal investigators — co-directors and KU faculty members Becci Akin, Kaela Byers, and Jared Barton — have pledged to move beyond acknowledging and studying the historic and structural racism in the United States to working to dismantle the systems of oppression through their child welfare research.
“We want to transform the system as it currently exists so it is equitably serving families, so every family has an opportunity for positive outcomes, so that it’s not a punitive system, and when families do experience crises and need additional support, it is easily accessible and delivered without stigma,” said Kaela Byers, associate research professor of social welfare.
“We strive to do our work in a collaborative, community-engaged and community-driven and strengths-oriented manner,” said Akin, professor of social welfare and doctoral program director. “Importantly, we have a multisystem focus. Rather than solely focusing on individual level solutions, our work explores the structural and institutional contributors that establish everyday practice with families and children. This involves working with systems so they can hear and honor communities’ lived expertise. It also involves working across sectors to build more integrated, easily available, responsive, culturally relevant and equitable systems.”
CRTS currently supports nine large multipartner research, evaluation and implementation projects, all of which are focused on family, community and social justice initiatives. Most of the projects target Kansas, but a few projects are of national scope spanning 10 additional states. One project of recent recognition is Kansas Strong for Children and Families, a public-private-university collaborative that works to bring together agency, court, parent and youth leadership to create meaningful and lasting change in the child welfare system.
“Kansas Strong supports an Interagency and Community Advisory Board at statewide and local levels intended to identify gaps and barriers in the service array and identify solutions to those so families and communities are supported to care for their children,” said Barton, assistant research professor.
The center’s co-directors have been working in research implementing and evaluating innovative approaches to serving children, families and their communities for much of their careers, honing their expertise in child and family well-being and child welfare.
“We are excited to add CRTS to the Research Office’s centers,” said Amy Mendenhall, associate dean for research & faculty development. “We have been conducting important research on child welfare within our school for years, but having a formalized center helps us foster an environment that expands impact and effectively communicates our research to the public.”

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