Initial Publication Date: September 24, 2020

Materials for Faculty Workshops

Supporting students' sense of belonging: This session is designed to familiarize faculty members with the research literature on sense of belonging.

Foster a Sense of Belonging

Humans function best within the framework of social interactions. Cultivating a sense of belonging among students in the classroom encourages interest and personal contributions; both of these support their overall success. Fostering students' sense of belonging on campus and in the broader community of geoscientists can be accomplished through a variety of means. In addition to these external motivators, you can be instrumental in helping students identify and develop their lifelong passions.

Spotlight Diverse Scientists

"If students hold stereotypes that portray scientists as a different 'kind of person' than themselves, those students might conclude they are not 'science people.' This mismatch between a student's personal sense of identity and a science identity can hamper persistence in STEM." (Schinske et al., 2016).

To illustrate diversity within the discipline, scientist spotlights can be added into courses or displayed in the department to a broader student community. Spotlights can also highlight contributions to the geosciences by individuals other than those traditionally used as examples in textbooks. These spotlights can include professionals who began their education at a two-year college to demonstrate that students starting at a 2YC have gone on to rewarding careers in the geosciences.

Cheryl Resnick has been developing a series of posters showcasing geoscience alumni to be used in classrooms, outreach events, and advising offices. These 'Just Like Me' posters are meant to counter the narrative that geoscientists are all old white males.
Andrea Bair has found that instituting scientist spotlights in her classes allows students to personally reflect on being a scientist and doing science regardless of whether they intend to continue in a STEM career or not.
David Voorhees has been having his students producing short videos on underrepresented minority and women geoscientists
The Florida team helped develop an orientation for students at Daytona State College that created a greater sense of belonging leading to an increase in retention.

Mitigate Stereotype Threat and Solo Status Issues

Creating a learning space that is inclusive of all individuals' ideas and experiences is important to instill a sense of belonging in the classroom. Faculty need to be aware of issues that particularly affect students from underrepresented groups. Stereotype threat, solo status, and microaggressions are insidious factors that can strongly, and negatively, affect students' experience in education.

Stereotype threat refers to situation in which individuals fear conforming to stereotypes about their social group. Stereotype threat is often considered a contributing factor to racial and gender gaps in educational performance and persistence. Stereotype threat is often reinforced by solo status and through microaggressions.

Solo status is the experience of being the only member of one's particular community present in a group. For example, being the only Asian American in a class of white students or being the only female in a group of men would be situations where solo status can come into play. The awareness of being the sole member of one's group is burdensome and has detrimental effects on performance but it doesn't depend on a stereotype being activated.

Microaggressions are statement or actions that are subtle reinforcements of stereotypes. Learning to recognize and countering these microagressions will improve the learning environment and increase persistence for affected students.SAGE 2YC: Empower 2YC
Students with Validation »

Microvalidations (small, positive, day-to-day interactions with students) can counteract some of the negative effects of microaggressions and stereotype threat, particularly when they convey a sense that the student is and will continue to be successful. Clause M. Steel's book "Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do"has also proven to be a valuable resource in helping educators understand and avoid the harmful effects of stereotype threat in their classrooms.

The Texas team conducted a virtual book club with their colleagues using "Whistling Vivaldi."
Southern California 3
"Whistling Vivaldi" played a central role in the Southern California 3 team's 2018 regional workshop about removing barriers to engagement, success, and persistence.

Support the Whole Student

Supporting the whole student refers to initiatives that go beyond the classroom and are holistic approaches that help students navigate and address the various pressures that may influence their success within the program. This concept is an outgrowth of work done to identify the characteristics that make some student support programs successful where other aren't (Jolly et al., 2004; Gross et al., 2015). Programs that supported students in multiple aspects of their lives, not just what happened in courses, saw the most success helping students persist in STEM disciplines.

You can try social networking to connect students to the instructor(s) and other students, bring students together via student clubs, movie nights, lecture series and professional societies, or provide a space for study groups. All of these techniques foster an inclusive environment and support broadening participation.


These references highlight additional evidence-based practices for fostering students' sense of belonging.

Aguilar, L., G. Walton, and C. Weiman (2014). Psychological insights for improved physics teaching: Physics Today, v. 67, n. 5, pp. 43-49.

Cohen, G. L., J. Garcia, N. Apfel, and A. Master (2006). Reducing the Racial Achievement Gap: A Social-Psychological Intervention: Science, v. 313, pp. 1307-1310.

Miyake, A., L. E. Kost-Smith, N. D. Finkelstein, S. J. Pollock, G. L. Cohen, and T. A. Ito (2010). Reducing the Gender Achievement Gap in College Science: A Classroom Study of Values Affirmation: Science, v. 330, pp. 1234-1237.

Walton, G. M. and G. L. Cohen (2007). A Question of Belonging: Race, Social Fit, and Achievement: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, v. 92, n. 1, pp. 82–96.

Yeager, D. S. and C. S. Dweck (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed: Educational Psychologist, v. 47, n. 4, pp. 302-314.

Yeager, D. S. and G. M. Walton (2011). Social-Psychological Interventions in Education: They're Not Magic: Review of Educational Research, v. 81, n. 2, pp. 267-301.