Sarri Family Fellowship for Research on Educational Attainment of Children in Low Income Families

The Sarri Family Fellowship supports a graduate student or post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan to conduct research related to improving the educational attainment of students from low income families. The fellowship is primarily intended for social science research on improving the chances for low income students to attend and succeed in post-secondary educational institutions. The fellowship is open to graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from any school or college at the University of Michigan.

Application Process

​Applications are available starting in February each year. Information about the competition, award amount, and eligibility will be available on this website.

Please contact us with any questions about the competition. 

Award Winners

2020: Postsecondary Decision Making: The Role of Family, School and Financial Aid Provision

By Elizabeth Burland

Project Description

There are well-documented gaps in both college attendance and completion rates by income and wealth and there is evidence that these gaps have increased over time. Previous research has focused on whether students go to college and where they go to college with a number of successful interventions that increase student enrollment in post-secondary institutions. However, we know less about why these interventions have been successful. This study examines the decision-making process that students engage in after high school, and how differences in decision-making might contribute to the gaps in educational outcomes. We know that geographic, school, peer, and home contexts are factors in the decision to attend college, but more research is needed to understand how these influence the process of student decision-making. Using a semi-structured interview methodology, this study investigates three research questions. (1) How do students make decisions about what to pursue after high school, and what resources do they use? (2) How do school, family, and geographic contexts shape these decisions? (3) How do interventions like the HAIL scholarship and other financial aid interventions influence student decisions and how does this vary by geographic and school context? 

 

2019: I’m Just Not a “Math Person”: Categorically Different Identities and their Development by Race and Gender

By Elizabeth Bruch and Anne Clark

Project Description

Among scholars who examine how math interest and self-competence evolve with age, there is disagreement as to whether the gender gap grows or shrinks with age. Furthermore, there is no research on whether gaps between white students and underrepresented minorities grow or shrink with age. Understanding the process whereby young people begin or cease to identify themselves as math people is crucial to diminishing the gender gap in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors. Do girls start with stronger math identities and get discouraged, or develop greater self-competence after a proven record of strong performance? Furthermore, it is clear that this process differs for white girls and minority girls. Black girls especially receive more encouragement in STEM at home while experiencing greater racial bias in school compared to white girls.

Uncovering the most common pathways whereby girls’ math identities evolve is important for identifying the most effective developmental stages for interventions increasing girls’ interest and self-competence in math. Furthermore, an intersectional analysis allows us to target strategies more effectively, for example, based on school or neighborhood racial composition. Therefore, the first goal of this study is to use a nationally representative data set to describe common trajectories of identity development in elementary and middle school and race and gender differences in the likelihood of taking any given pathway. The second goal of this study is to identify predictors of race and gender differences in pathways of identity development.

 

2018: The Effect of Classroom Demographic Composition on Inequalities in Math Identity and Performance

By Elizabeth Bruch and Anne Clark

Project Description

Educational equity consists of not only equality in resources and opportunities, but also equality in the range of future selves that children have the freedom to imagine and become in terms of ambition, self-confidence, and interests. This has not only moral but also financial implications. For college to be transformative for life chances, not only must we reduce selection into college attendance. Students also need to have equal access to majors that yield the highest economic dividends, which tend to require a strong math background (Kim, Tamborini, and Sakamoto 2015). And yet, women are less likely to choose those majors and underrepresented minorities, despite high interest, are less likely to be prepared for and therefore persist in them (Riegle-Crumb and King 2010; Xie, Fang, and Shauman 2015). Given the strong correlation between race and socioeconomic status (Condron 2009), this race gap in major perpetuates socioeconomic gaps in education and earnings.

Interventions seeking to prevent disparities in postsecondary majors should focus on elementary and middle school, as high school may be too late to make significant impacts. First, tracking of students into ability-differentiated math classes begins in middle school as a function of both preferences and academic performance (Catsambis 1994; Gamoran 1992). This tracking is highly stable (Hallinan 1996) and has implications for college attendance and major selection, as many high schools allow students to move out of but not into college preparatory tracks (Domina, Penner, and Penner 2017). Second, children begin developing career aspirations and expectations as early as elementary school. Their perceptions of their ability and its implications for their future prospects then become increasingly calcified in high school (Hartung, Porfeli, and Vondracek 2005). However, current research is limited in its ability to inform the co-evolution of inequalities in math performance and disparities in math identity (i.e., enjoyment of and self- confidence in math) because these two strands of educational equity are generally studied separately at the elementary and secondary school level. Research on racial inequalities in education tends to focus on performance and attainment gaps between Whites and Asians on one hand and underrepresented minorities on the other due to income inequality and segregation into different public schools (with racial disparities in educational aspirations treated as symptomatic of these structural inequalities) (Condron 2009; Domina, Penner, and Penner 2017). With the closing of the gender gap in test scores in elementary and secondary schools, gender scholarship increasingly focuses on the persistent gap in the desire to pursue math-based careers stemming from cultural messaging that math is masculine (Riegle-Crumb and Morton 2017; Xie, Fang, and Shauman 2015).

Studying the race gap in test scores and degree attainment separately from the gender gap in attitudes towards subjects like math leaves inconsistencies unexamined. Generally, researchers have found that performance, interest, and self-confidence in school subjects are highly correlated, and yet a growing body of evidence shows that this correlation is weaker for girls and underrepresented minorities (Denissen, Zarrett, and Eccles 2007). Notably, minority students are more likely to maintain positive math identities (i.e., to like math and feel confident in their math abilities) despite low test scores (Riegle-Crumb, Moore, and Ramos-Wada 2011). Uncovering why may be key to both developing strategies to improve girls’ math identities and determining which unique strengths in minority students can be leveraged to improve their math performance.

Social psychological research on stereotype threat and impostor syndrome has provided some clues as to the underlying processes simultaneously affecting math performance and identity. According to work on stereotype threat, the existence of negative stereotypes for one’s racial or gender group lowers both self-perceived and actual performance through both fear of conforming to the stereotype and demotivation due to devaluation by peers and mentors (von Hippel, Sekaquaptewa, and McFarlane 2015). Over time, this leads to disidentification with the field. In contrast, the imposter syndrome literature focuses on situations in which women and minorities disidentify with the field and may have low self-perceived performance, but do not actually underperform compared to white men (Dasgupta 2011). Individuals from underrepresented groups feel they do not belong based on the demographic composition of the field and lose confidence. Even if their performance is not affected, their self-doubt compels them to switch to a field in which they feel more comfortable and have more confidence. While one theory relies more heavily on negative stereotypes and the other on underrepresentation to trigger effects on identity and/or performance, many fields in which women and minorities are underrepresented also contain negative stereotypes about them. Many negative stereotypes about women and minorities’ competence and competencies are also not field-specific (e.g., that white people are more intellectual than black individuals, that women are more emotional and less analytical than men). Therefore, it is unclear when someone may experience negative effects on identity but not performance (imposter syndrome) and when an individual may suffer negative impacts on both identity and performance (stereotype threat). Furthermore, neither theory can inform why individuals may be able to maintain positive identity despite poor performance.

2017: Did I 'work hard' or 'get lucky'? First-Generation Students' Understanding of their Success

By Sonya Dal Cin and Neil Lewis, Jr.

Project Description

Five percent of the students who matriculated to the University of Michigan last fall were the first in their families to ever attend college (UM Student Life, 2016). Despite the hope that these students and their families have for the better life a college education will bring them, the evidence suggests their odds of success are compromised by them simply being the first to make this journey. First generation students are less likely to graduate from college (Horn, 1998; Ishitani, 2006; Nunez & Curraco-Alamin, 1998; Riehl, 1994), and even when they do graduate, they are less likely to do so in a timely manner (Ishitani, 2003, 2006) which results in them accruing more debt along the way than their continuing generation counterparts (Carter, 2016). Why is it more difficult for first-generation students to succeed in college? Prior research has documented several structural factors that contribute to generational disparities in college achievement. Compared to continuing-generation students, first-generation students: (a) are more likely to have attended under-resourced high schools (and as a result, to have often received worse high school preparation; Braxton, Duster, & Pascarella, 1988), (b) have greater difficulty navigating university institution bureaucracies such as financial aid and course registration (Reeves, Murphy, D’Mello, & Yeager, 2016), and (c) are more likely to have to work during college in order to fund their education (Hoachlander, Sikora, & Horn, 2003).

In addition to these structural barriers, students’ understanding and interpretation of their college experiences, including their perception of how and why they got into college in the first place, are another potentially important factor explaining the generational achievement gap in college (Aelenei, Lewis, & Oyserman, 2016). First generation students are less likely than continuing-generation students to feel like they feel like they belong on campus and more likely to experience imposter syndrome (Gardner, & Holley, 2011). Imposter syndrome is characterized by attributing one’s successes to “luck” and other external sources (Brauer & Wolf, 2016), and is associated with adverse outcomes such as experiencing persistent fears of being exposed as a “fraud” (Gardner, & Holley, 2011). This diminished sense of belonging is associated with increased depression (Hagerty & Williams, 1999) and decreased academic persistence (Lewis, Sekaquaptewa, & Meadows, 2017). What remains unclear is the timeline of when these feelings emerge. Does imposter syndrome develop only after being on campus, or might first-generation students doubt their abilities before they even arrive? Identifying the origins of first-generation students’ imposter syndrome is important for identifying points for intervention. If these feelings emerge before college, then interventions designed to reduce imposter syndrome and improve outcomes for first generation students should occur before they arrive on campus (e.g. Yeager et al., in press). However, if these feelings emerge after students arrive on campus, then different strategies should be adopted (e.g. Walton & Cohen, 2011).

 

My research project aims to understand how high school seniors make decisions about what to pursue after they complete high school. I’m using a particular population of low-income, high achieving students in the state of Michigan that live all across the state, in cities, small towns, and rural areas.

I will use the funding this summer to help support my living expenses for the summer so that I can focus on finishing my interviews and spend time effectively writing up my results. This funding will support the timely completion of my dissertation, will result in at least one academic publication which is necessary for opening career opportunities, and will help launch me into a career speaking to both sociological knowledge as well as real policy change. I am very grateful for this opportunity.

Elizabeth Burland

2020 recipient of the Sarri Family Fellowship

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