Remy Dou is in search of a moment. The moment a person first sees themselves as a scientist.
It’s a moment that can be so elusive because typically, it’s based on little somethings that happen over time. A conversation here. A book read there. A TV show seen at the right time.
He’s starting with college students. He wants to know who spoke to them first about science and what they talked about. Do those conversations happen with friends? Or family? Are they reading about science fiction? Or are they reading things like Popular Mechanics? Are they just watching Star Wars?
Yet putting a finger on something so ephemeral could lead to understanding why students choose to major in science or not. With support from a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, Dou just might.
Then he wants to work with Zoo Miami, and other groups that host summer camps for children, to train staff and develop a curriculum that can foster the type of science talks that can spark interest for children in elementary school.
For his part, Dou traces his interest in science to conversations about physics with his own father who studied physics in college.
“It did tell me that my dad valued science, that science was a worthy pursuit,” Dou said.
Being both an immigrant and of Latino descent, Dou is especially interested in learning more about the types of science talk that children with similar backgrounds experience.
Researchers at FIU’s STEM Transformation Institute including Dou have been examining the importance of identity for STEM students. They’ve discovered that a passion for science and fostering interest and interaction among students can lead to success in STEM courses. They saw how interest and recognition are factors that can help students become “science and math persons.” They’ve even learned what can drive some students away from the field altogether.
As they get closer to finding that early spark of something about identity, they hope to make a discovery that could lead to more people from underrepresented groups graduating from college with lucrative STEM careers.