Dr. Bryan Dewsbury

Dr. Bryan Dewsbury is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Rhode Island (URI). His work focuses on equity and community in education, especially in post-secondary STEM contexts. As the PI of the Science Education And Society research program at URI, he directs research on the ways in which factors like pedagogy, identity, relationships, and belonging affect student engagement and achievement. This broad research program also investigates real-world practice, through pedagogical and curricular interventions developed in collaboration with URI and local schools. At the national level, Dr. Dewsbury’s contributions include supporting numerous departments and institutions in their efforts toward more inclusive education, in part through his role as a fellow with the Gardner Institute.


Zoë Mermin

Zoë Mermin is a high school senior at Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts. For the past year, she has been working with Dr. Dewsbury on several research projects related to equity in education. She will be attending Princeton University in 2021 fall, where she hopes to pursue a degree in molecular biology.


A Sense of Belonging, with STEM Educator Dr. Bryan Dewsbury

Spark Science podcast, Season 5

In this podcast episode, host Dr. Regina Barber DeGraaff interviews Dr. Bryan Dewsbury about several themes including his personal journey from Trinidad and Tobago to becoming a professor and researcher in STEM education. Dr. Dewsbury and high school student Zoë Mermin reflect on the themes espoused in the podcast.

Thoughts from Zoë Mermin

Listening to this podcast caused me to consider in more depth the factors which contribute to success in science. I was surprised to learn what a strong impact students’ sense of belonging and identity in STEM has on their retention and achievement in these fields. I realized how important the classroom environment can be, as everything down to the ways in which information is communicated can impact students’ sense of belonging and identity, and therefore their success. The podcast also challenged me to think about the science stereotypes I unconsciously hold and where they came from. It encouraged me to reflect both on the depictions of science in the media that I have seen and how they have perpetuated or fought against these stereotypes.

Below, Zoë Mermin highlights key themes from the podcast and references articles with short descriptions that address the highlighted theme.

(Relevant parts of the podcast episode beginning at 7:15 and 20:21)

Chen, S., Binning, K. R., Manke, K. J., Brady, S. T., McGreevy, E. M., Betancur, L., Limeri, L. B., & Kaufmann, N. (2021). Am I a science person? A strong science identity bolsters minority students’ sense of belonging and performance in college. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(4), 593–606. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0146167220936480

In “Am I a science person? A strong science identity bolsters minority students’ sense of belonging and performance in college,” Chen et al. study how science identity influences student belonging. The authors explain that students with strong science identities are more likely to succeed in science fields. They hypothesize that science identity leads to success because it fosters a sense of belonging in the classroom. Given that minority and first-generation students may feel less belonging, the authors hypothesize that it is especially important for them to develop science identities. After they increased students’ sense of belonging in a social belonging intervention, there was no correlation between a strong science identity and success. Minority students who participated, regardless of their initial science identity, were just as likely to succeed as their majority classmates. These findings support the idea that a strong science identity leads to a greater sense of belonging. The authors suggest that helping minority students to develop strong science identities will increase their sense of belonging and therefore their success in science.

Science Communication
(Relevant parts of the podcast episode beginning at 16:27 and 26:27)

Fischhoff, B. (2013). The sciences of science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (Supplement 3), 14033–14039. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/110/Supplement_3/14033

In his article, “The sciences of science communication,” Baruch Fischhoff presents four steps to effectively communicate science to others. Fischhoff explains that science communication is important because it provides the public the knowledge to make informed decisions about major issues. He explains that science communicators must understand their audience and identify the issues they face, so that the correct information can be communicated. Fischhoff lays out the four tasks that must be fulfilled to effectively communicate science. Science communicators must first identify the science that  is relevant to the issue people are facing. Then, they must determine what subset of those facts the audience does not yet understand, as these are the most important to communicate. The third task is to craft communication to bridge the gap between what the audience needs to know and what they already do. Finally, the communicators must evaluate how effective the communication was and repeat the tasks if needed. In order for a communication to be adequate, it must contain the information needed in an accessible location and in an understandable format. Fischhoff argues that in order to meet this goal, subject matter scientists and scientists who are experts in the communication process must work together, along with a practitioner to connect the different groups.

Developing Science Identity
(Relevant part of the podcast episode beginning at 3:22)

Eagan, M. K., Hurtado, S., Garibay, J., & Herrera, F. (2012 April). Accentuating advantage: Developing science identity during college. In American Educational Research Association Conference. Retrieved from https://www.heri.ucla.edu/nih/downloads/AERA2012EaganAccentuatingAdvantage.pdf

The paper “Accentuating advantage: Developing science identity during college” discusses the factors that are most predictive of having a strong science identity. Eagan et al. draw on a model for science identity based on competence, performance, and recognition. They argue that a strong science identity is important because it improves students’ persistence in STEM, which has high attrition rates. The authors found many attributes that predicted high science identity when entering college, including students who participated in research before college, male students, and students who took biology classes. The strongest predictor of high science identity when entering college was the intention to go on to graduate school. The authors found that entering college with a strong science identity was the greatest predictor of a strong science identity when graduating college. The authors justify why this is the case through the framework of cumulative advantage and accentuation. In this context, the cumulative advantage theory predicts that a strong science identity when entering college will compound over time, leading to an even stronger science identity, as these students have access to more opportunities. The accentuation effect predicts that students who enter college with strong science identity will accentuate this interest by participating in different STEM activities, leading to a stronger science identity when they graduate.

Stereotypes of Science in Media
(Relevant part of the podcast episode beginning at 22:43)

Long, M., Boiarsky, G., & Thayer, G. (2001). Gender and racial counter-stereotypes in science education television: A content analysis. Public Understanding of Science, 10(3), 255–269. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3109/a036869

In their paper, “Gender and racial counter-stereotypes in science education television: A content analysis,” Long et al. analyze science education programming. They attempt to determine if these shows perpetuate commonly held stereotypes of scientists as older white men. Their hypotheses were that in the shows, men would be more likely to be scientists than women, Caucasians would be more likely to be scientists than minorities, male scientists would be older than female scientists, and white male scientists would have higher status than female and minority scientists. The authors analyzed four different programs—Bill Nye The Science Guy, Beakman’s World, Magic School Bus, and Newton’s Apple—which represent the wide range of science education programs available. The attributes of each character that were recorded included demographics (age, gender, ethnicity), time spent on screen, and status (job title, clothing worn, main or supporting character, and knowledge). The results were that male and female characters were equally likely to be scientists and that status was equal for males and females and minorities. However, male characters outnumbered females, and males were more likely to be older than female characters. Minorities were less likely to be scientists than Caucasian characters, minority characters had less screen time than Caucasians, and there were significantly fewer minority characters.

(Relevant part of the podcast episode beginning at 10:02)

Auer, P., 2005. A postscript: Code-switching and social identity. Journal of Pragmatics, 37(3), 403–410. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378216604002218

Peter Auer discusses different interpretations of code-switching in his article, “A postscript: Code-switching and social identity.” Auer explains that speaking a specific language is seen as an indicator of belonging to a certain social group based on attributes such as race, culture, or ancestry. Code-switching comes into effect when there is a use of two languages or dialects: “local versus regional languages, indigenous versus colonial languages, lingue franche versus national languages, or minority versus majority languages” (Auer, 2005). Speakers mix the more commonly spoken language with another language associated with an ethnic or other type of identity to display their belonging to this identity. While this can be an accurate interpretation, Auer explains that a more nuanced understanding of code-switching is needed in many cases. He discusses another model that states that each language comes with certain responsibilities, which speakers use when code-switching to invoke these responsibilities or rights. Auer then discusses another interpretation of code-switching, where the mixing of two languages is viewed as an indication of a unique, hybrid social identity. However, Auer warns against automatically conflating mixed languages with mixed identities, as this is often an oversimplification. Auer argues that code-switching must be analyzed on an individual basis, considering the context of the language and the country where it is occurring.