Utilitarian Scientific Literacy & PVEST

“Connecting the Dots for HBCUs and STEM Education”

Growth Mindset Faculty Development Workshop

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Lycurgus L. Muldrow, Ph.D.


Scientific literacy is a malleable term that varies in meaning based on the population. For the general population it is simply a basic understanding of science and how it operates around them, however, for students pursuing a STEM degree this term has a more robust meaning. Being scientifically literate as a STEM student means they will be able to develop science and scientific research, analyze and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations, participate in discourse, improve scientific reason and critical/creative thinking, and collaborate and participate in team building activities. The goal of this level of scientific understanding is to encourage a scientist identity and increase STEM self-efficacy.

Utilitarian Scientific Literacy

Dr. Lycurgus Muldrow developed a comprehensive, utilitarian scientific literacy curriculum with evidence that this curriculum, at Morehouse College and in upper-level STEM high school courses, contributes to students’ increased interest in pursuing STEM careers, and improves their success in college-level STEM courses. In the scientific literacy course, there are 12 stand-alone modules titled: Scientific Literacy Defined; Why Scientific Literacy is Important; Scientific Literacy and College Retention; Growth Mindset; How the Discovery Process Works, Parts I and II; Scientific Method; Research Simulation Case Study; Careers in STEM; Research Experience for Undergraduates; and How Science is Communicated, Parts I and II. Each of these modules contains a professionally produced video lecture with accompanying slides, active-learning activities, and a quiz. Considering that there are various contextual factors that may affect a students’ general accomplishment in the STEM major, this course builds from the ground up to thoroughly provide every student with the fundamental information, skills, and disposition expected to guarantee success. As students complete each individual module they are exposed to skills needed to persist in their respective STEM fields. From the student-centered learning approach used throughout the course, every student is granted the opportunity for a personalized, engaging and informative experience that allows them to identify their own unique skills and capabilities. Through the incorporation of a research simulation case study and other supporting activities, they are able to take ownership over their learning, build a scientific identity and increase their self-efficacy. Additionally, the course exposes students to a variety of information in regards to career options, study habits, research opportunities and the importance of a growth mindset.

Engaging PVEST

There have been a significant number of research studies conducted using the Utilitarian Scientific Literacy course that have rendered significantly positive results. These results showcase the multifaceted possibilities of the intervention with the potential to substantially increase the number of students who are interested in STEM, choose a STEM major, and then persist in that major beyond the introductory STEM gatekeeper courses. However, a majority of this data was collected at Morehouse College, the only all-male African American college in the country, where students are known for high academic achievement. Morehouse freshman scored very high on the national scientific literacy survey as being confident as a scientist (Benjamin et al., 2017). Thus, there is a need to conduct research at other HBCUs with different student academic competencies (e.g average SAT, ACT, GPAs, socioeconomic background) and institutional profiles (public versus private, rural vs. urban, high vs. low faculty teaching load, large vs. small student bodies) to see which of the various scientific literacy interventions works best for STEM students at these institutions. PVEST serves as a theoretical framework meant to examine the contextual factors of students and institutions. Utilizing PVEST will allow the research to move beyond purely cognitive or academic assessments by integrating the full range of a students’ salient life (e.g. educational) experiences into an evaluative strategy sensitive to variation in the needs and histories of both STEM students at HBCUs and HBCUs themselves. As an identity focused cultural-ecological framework, PVEST was uniquely designed to address the complexities and similarities that are anticipated. The data will provide insight into which student affective risk factors are being attenuated by the intervention, or which supports are being augmented. Using PVEST as an investigative theoretical framework will allow us to unpack psychosocial aspects of STEM learning, as well as, context variations affected by the utilitarian scientific literacy curriculum. Moreover, the utilitarian scientific literacy intervention curriculum data will contribute to the formation of a student’s individual STEM academic profile which can then be used to determine the most effective intervention method for that STEM student.