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2014 September 9

First-generation students

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:27
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There were a couple of blog posts by in The Academe Blog in August 2014 pointing to articles about first-generation college students: students whose parents did not graduate from college with 4-year degrees.  This is a particularly important topic for University of California campuses, as UC admissions puts a high premium on being a first-generation student, resulting in large numbers of first-generation students.  (In Fall 2013, 44% of the freshmen at UCSC were first-generation students.)

In the first post First Generation Students Part I: Difference-Education, Walter Breau quotes from an  interview published in the Stanford Report:

“Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap,” offers a new approach to help [first-generation students] advance in college: discuss class differences rather than ignore them. The research showed that when incoming first-generation students saw and heard stories from junior and senior students with different social-class backgrounds tell stories about their struggles and successes in college, they gained a framework to understand how their backgrounds shaped their own experiences and how to see this as an asset,”

(How’s that for 4 levels of indirection: me quoting Breau quoting an interview with Hamidani about a paper by Hamidani, Stephens, and Westin.)

The abstract of the paper itself sums up the research fairly well:

College students who do not have parents with 4-year degrees (first-generation students) earn lower grades and encounter more obstacles to success than do students who have at least one parent with a 4-year degree (continuing-generation students). In the study reported here, we tested a novel intervention designed to reduce this social-class achievement gap with a randomized controlled trial (N = 168). Using senior college students’ real-life stories, we conducted a difference-education intervention with incoming students about how their diverse backgrounds can shape what they experience in college. Compared with a standard intervention that provided similar stories of college adjustment without highlighting students’ different backgrounds, the difference-education intervention eliminated the social-class achievement gap by increasing first-generation students’ tendency to seek out college resources (e.g., meeting with professors) and, in turn, improving their end-of-year grade point averages. The difference-education intervention also improved the college transition for all students on numerous psychosocial outcomes (e.g., mental health and engagement).

The do not identify the private university at which they did the study, and I believe that the details of the university make a huge difference.  The adjustments needed when first-generation students are an insignificant minority (as they are at most elite private colleges) and when they are 44% of the incoming class are likely quite different, and so the interventions needed may differ not just in scale but in kind.  Since all the authors are at private research universities (Stanford and Northwestern), they likely did their study at either Stanford or Northwestern, neither of which has many first-generation students, and both of which have large numbers of rather wealthy students.  I question somewhat how well the results of studies on such campuses generalizes to the public universities which may soon be majority first-generation students (or already are in some cases), and where social class is not so skewed toward the wealthy.

In First Generation Students Part II: Cultural Fit, Walter Breau points to an article about cultural fit:

“Unseen Disadvantage: How American Universities’ Focus on Independence Undermines the Academic Performance of First-Generation College Students,” published in 2012 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, concluded:

“That the seemingly positive middle-and upper-class cultural norms that pervade traditional American universities—norms that emphasize independent values such as ‘do your own thing,’ ‘pave your own path,’ and ‘express yourself’—can undermine the academic performance of first-generation students.”

The distinction that the article makes between “middle-class” and “working-class” values is independence vs. interdependence.  They found that college administrators at top-ranked colleges valued independent decision making much more than they valued interdependence, but that there were not significant differences between responses to questions about about independent vs. collaborative work.  Lower ranked colleges had less of a skew toward valuing independent decision making, but were otherwise fairly similar.

The study looked at a modest sample of student surveys and grades (245 first-generation, 1179 continuing-generation) to see whether independent/interdependent motive predicted cumulative GPA at the end of 2 years.  The effect sizes they saw were tiny—only coming out larger than race because they lumped all non-white race categories together, which makes some sense for looking at independent/interdependent, but not for looking at GPA, since Asian student typically perform quite differently from black and Latino students.  SAT scores alone were a much better predictor of grades than any of the sociological variables they looked at, and the only really good predictor of 2-year GPA was the 1-year GPA. So, while their results were statistically significant, it is not clear that they were really large enough to justify any conclusions about whether the “American Universities’ Focus on Independence Undermines the Academic Performance of First-Generation College Students”.  I certainly would not want to base policy decisions on such small effects.

Their study was done at schools with only about 17% first-generation students (based on the participant numbers in their study), which may be typical of US colleges as a whole, but is nothing like the UC system.  Even UCB, with the lowest ratio of first-generation students of any UC campus, had 23% first-generation students in 2010 (the latest for which I could find UC-wide data), and some campus were majority first-generation even in 2010 (Merced and Riverside).

Although it is important for UC to figure out how to help first-generation college students succeed, it is not clear to me that either of the studies that Breau reported on have much relevance for UC.


2012 May 7

Kids on Campus

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:25
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Our local community college each year has a number of programs for kids (some for kids as young as 10 years old:  Kids on Campus – Cabrillo College Extension.

My son has outgrown these courses, and his 4 weeks of theater summer camp will make it difficult for him to register for any of the regular Cabrillo college courses.  He did take one of them several years ago: a Lego Robotics course using Logo and the old Lego Dacta serial interface board.  The same course appears to be offered this summer, with the same teacher.  Neither he nor I can remember now whether he had one week or two of using the serial interface—he does not even remember programming in Logo for controlling Lego motors.  I thought at the time that it was a pretty good course, and a nice variant on the mainly visual programming languages then available for Lego robotics.  (He has used a couple of those languages and NQC for programming Lego robots, though now he does most of his robotics programming in C++ on the Arduino, with Python and PySerial to communicate from a laptop.)

So far as I know, UCSC has not attempted to do much with education for children, other than the Seymour Center at the Long Marine Lab and the COSMOS program for high schoolers (which I discussed in a blog post about improving the science fair participation by high schoolers).  There are a lot of summer camps for kids on the UCSC campus, but most of these are from 3rd-party providers (like most campuses, they try to get money out of the dorms on a year-round basis).

2012 March 10

Mechatronics demo at UCSC

Filed under: Robotics — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:15
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I just got the announcement for one of the fun events for this time of year:

Come see tired and haggard engineering students who have not slept or showered in weeks! (Oh yeah, and their robots.)

What: CMPE118 Mechatronics Public Presentation
Where: Baskin Engineering 101 (Auditorium), UCSC
When: Wednesday, 14-Mar-2012, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

The Mechatronics class is having their public demonstration of their final design lab, Slugs of the Caribbean 2012, Wednesday 14-Mar-2012 at 7:00 PM in Baskin Engineering 101.

The task requires the ‘droids to navigate a field to get to the enemy’s island and return to their own, while shooting at the enemy with ping pong balls. The ‘droids will run against each other on the field. We will run the competition in a round robin format to see which robot reigns supreme.

The public is invited (you might have to duck a few ping-pong balls) and the teams will be on hand to explain their designs to one and all. Come see what these students have accomplished in 10 weeks and cheer on the competition.

The flyer
The project specs

Feel free to forward this to any and all that might be interested, children (future engineers) especially welcome.

I got to the mechatronics demo almost every year.  My son won’t be able to go this year, since it conflicts with his theater class, but I encourage others whose schedules permit to come.

2012 January 19

UCSC the only UC with Google virtual tour

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:36
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According to Google’s Street View University Partners – Maps Help, the only University of California campus that currently has a virtual tour is UCSC.

The “virtual tour” is not a tour so far as I can tell, but heavy Street View coverage of the campus.  The coverage of UCSC campus is adequate, including major roads and the bike paths, but not including many of service roads and footpaths that a real tour would cover.  It would be good for Google to hire a student to walk a number of the paths (particularly some of the single-track trails in the woods, which are not properly mapped) with a geotagging street-view camera, to capture the campus more thoroughly.

2011 October 27

40% increase in female CS majors—not as good as it sounds

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:14
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According to a press release this week from UCSC (Baskin School of Engineering promotes increased participation of women in computing), UCSC has had 40% increase in the number of women majoring in computer science in the past 2 years.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  But it is just spin.

The article does not say how big the increase in the number of men majoring in CS  was over the same period.  According to the 3 Quarter Average of Undergraduate Declared and Proposed Majors (historical, HC), the total CS majors went from 185.7 in 2008–09 to 294.9 in 2010–11 (fractions result from averaging over 3 quarters and from double majors).  That is a 59% increase, so it seems like the fraction of women in CS has been dropping.

Indeed, this quarter, Undergraduate Majors by Gender (HC) shows 30.0 women and 259.5 men, or about 10.4% of the majors being female. Even adding the proposed majors (many of whom will disappear to easier majors) only gets the numbers to 57.0 and 467.0 (10.9% female). This is not quite the lowest ratio of women of any of the engineering departments at UCSC (bioinformatics 29%, computer engineering 10.6%, electrical engineering 8.5%, bioengineering 26.5%, information systems management 16.9%), but is certainly not a number to brag about.  Actually, none of those numbers are anywhere near what they should be. (The bio- ones look relatively good, until you compare them with MCD bio, which is 59% women.)

Unfortunately, I can’t find on the planning website historical information about majors by gender, so I can’t do direct comparisons of the same measurements, but it looks to me like the engineering disciplines are getting worse gender imbalances, not better.

If the article had been about the growth in CS majors (thanks mostly to the game design major), it would have been a good, honest article. The accomplishment of growing CS enrollment at a time when many colleges are seeing shrinking CS enrollment is a story worth telling. But trumpeting the growth in female computer science majors, when their fraction of the CS majors is probably shrinking, is just sleazy advertising.  I’m once again ashamed to be associated with a university that will stoop so low.

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