Aug. 23, 2022

Postdoctoral research fellow receives NSF fellowship


Tara Slominski, NDSU postdoctoral research fellow, has been awarded a National Science Foundation STEM Education Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is among the first recipients in the nation to receive the new fellowship.

Her research project, “Reimagining Grading to Support Nontraditional and Rural Students in High Enrollment, Gateway STEM Courses,” is set to begin Jan. 1, 2023, and run for two years. Total funding is $300,000.

According to Slominski, traditional grading practices perpetuate systemic inequities for college students. Her work will directly address this challenge by providing STEM faculty with equitable and practical assessment and grading approaches that better support today’s college students. The work leverages a community-based approach to recognize and include nontraditional and rural students as equitable partners in the research process. She said this work will create more equitable learning environments that will enable more students to persist and thrive in STEM fields.

“The obstacles for rural and/or nontraditional students pursing postsecondary education are complex, especially for students interested in STEM degrees,” said Slominski, an NDSU alumna who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2011, master’s degree in 2014 and doctorate in 2020. “I was a first-generation, working student coming from a rural area when I enrolled at NDSU for my undergraduate degree and I definitely struggled with the structural norms and expectations of higher education.”

In 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 74% of undergraduate students in the U.S. had at least one nontraditional characteristic: delayed enrollment, attended college part time, worked at least 35 hours per week, financially independent, had dependents other than a spouse, single parent or received a GED or high school completion certificate.

“I'm looking forward to adding to the growing, national conversation on assessment and grades by formally exploring the challenges rural and nontraditional students experience in STEM classrooms. I'm really glad to have the opportunity to be working with students and faculty here at NDSU,” she said. “The findings from this work will help faculty across the country and across disciplines create more equitable learning environments that are better suited to support the needs of today’s college students.”

Slominski works in the laboratory of Jennifer Momsen, professor of biological sciences.

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