Campus News

UGA researchers get NSF award to study relationships between college locations, opportunities for experiential learning

Researchers in the UGA Institute of Higher Education were awarded $690,027 by the National Science Foundation to study how students’ access to experiential learning opportunities is affected by their proximity to areas with major economic and workforce activity.

Karen Webber

Karen Webber, professor of higher education, is the primary investigator, and Amy Stich, assistant professor of higher education, is co-PI on the project, “The Effect of Geographic Locale on Access to Work-Related Experiential Activities.

The research aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the issue by getting the perspectives from college students, career officials, employers and recently-hired alumni affiliated with five diverse universities across urban, rural and suburban contexts in Georgia.

“Ensuring a strong pipeline between completion of college and entry into the STEM workforce is important for today’s students, higher education officials and industry leaders,” said Webber.

“Many students seek experiential learning options to complement and strengthen the knowledge and skills gained in the classroom, but access to these opportunities varies by place,” she said.

The team will explore ways in which geographic locations in Georgia may contribute to inequality of opportunity, a delay in students’ time between degree and employment, narrower networks with and connections to potential employers, fewer employment choices and possibly lower wages.

Amy Stich

“We hope our final report will provide recommendations to increase valuable opportunities for all students, guidance on locating and retaining qualified employees, and ultimately contribute to diversifying STEM fields,” Stich said.

Webber, the 2018 Sidney Suslow Scholar, is an internationally-recognized leader in institutional research and data-informed decision making. She has received a number of grant awards to study undergraduate research, business engagement in STEM student success, graduate student debt and faculty satisfaction. She is lead co-editor of Big Data on Campus: Data Analytics and Decision Making in Higher Education (2020), published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Stich, a sociologist of education and qualitative researcher, investigates issues of inequality of educational access, opportunity and outcome relative to social class and race. She is a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and author of Access to Inequality: Reconsidering Class, Knowledge, and Capital in Higher Education (2012).

Others on the grant team are David Tanner, an associate director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government; Jerry Shannon, an associate professor in the UGA Center for Geospatial Research; and Marguerite Madden, director of and professor in the Center for Geospatial Research. Tanner’s work focuses on demographic and economic analysis and workforce development assistance in Georgia. Shannon and Madden will assist in the identification of relevant geographical data that will be visualized to analyze the impact of space and place.

This study follows a 2017 multidisciplinary seed grant study of the impact of business engagement on STEM student success led by Tanner, who was the PI on the project, with co-PIs Webber and Tim Burg, director of the UGA Office of STEM Education and professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine.