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Researchers of the Month

Elle Butler Basner and Maitreyee KaleSeptember 2016

Elle Butler Basner
University Scholars, Class of 2019 - Biochemistry & Applied Mathematics Majors

Maitreyee Kale

University Scholars, Class of 2019 - Biochemistry Major

Research Mentor: Dr. Gregory Rushton, Chemistry  

What factors affect the attrition and mobility of beginning STEM teachers? ...  Are highly-qualified teachers leaving the profession at a higher rate? ... Are there correlations between STEM student interest/performance and STEM teacher characteristics based on ACT data? 

Exploring questions such as these has for several months captivated the attention of two University Scholars, both granted competitive SBF-sponsored-URECA awards in the spring of their freshman year to support research in the Rushton Research Group over the past summer. In their very first semester at SB, Elle Butler Basner and Maitreyee Kale took the initiative to go to office hours for CHE 152 and inquire about doing directed independent research with Dr. Gregory Rushton. After joining the Rushton group, each was assigned an individual literature review project during the spring term, with Elle concentrating on Determining the Relationship Between Teacher Characteristics and Student Interest/Performance in STEM; and Maitreyee focusing on Analysis of Attrition and Mobility of Beginning STEM Teachers. As Elle and Maitreyee gained more facility working with SPSS, R and other statistical tools, and more familiarity with STEM education research, they began to collaborate and to jointly contribute to the Rushton group by providing background information/graphs and statistical analyses for several ongoing proposals/projects, including a Data Request proposal to ACT, literature review and preliminary data analysis for the Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Survey, preliminary data importation and coding for a Praxis II Computer Science project, and a presentation to the Biennial Conference on Chemistry Education. Both really like the positive, interactive team approach to problem solving that the Rushton group provides, and both found they work extremely well together.

The intensive summer research experience was also a great way to learn. ”I’m just really grateful that we got this opportunity", explains Maitreyee. "If we hadn’t got the URECA grant, we wouldn’t have been able to stay on campus and do research.” Elle seconds that, adding: “We really liked working with our group and are really grateful for the opportunity to get a full immersion to doing research.

Elle Butler Basner is pursuing a double major in Biochemistry, and Applied Math & Statistics. Her long term goal is to pursue a PhD in computational biology. Elle has been active as a University Scholars Fellow, a Leadership & Service Council Community Service Representative (H Quad), and a Benedict Hall Council Ad-Hoc member. Elle graduated from Haddonfield High School, New Jersey and was born in Ames, Iowa.

Maitreyee Kale is a Biochemistry major whose goal is to become a pediatrician. She has been active at SBU as a Public Relations Representative and Dancer with SBU Taandava, and as Vice President of Hindu Students Council. She is a graduate of Westhill High School in Stamford, Connecticut, and was born in India. 

Below are excerpts of their interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

The Interview

What is your current research project about?
Maitreyee. We’re both in the Rushton Research Group, and have been working on a couple of projects since the spring. For the beginning STEM teacher attrition study, we focus on novice teachers. A big problem is that a lot of beginning teachers leave the profession in the first few years. So what we’re mainly looking at are the factors that play into that—teachers’ satisfaction at school, salary, race, gender and a couple of other factors.

Elle. For our other main project, we’re looking at connecting teacher characteristics of secondary STEM teachers to student achievement in STEM based on standardized test scores. We did a literature review first - and then we submitted a data request to ACT to get student scores on the math and science sections and their information relevant to their interest in STEM.

How did you first get involved in Prof. Rushton’s research group?
Maitreyee We knew Prof. Rushton from our freshman chemistry class. We got to know him better by going to his office hours and towards the end of the first semester, we asked him about his research. We both thought it was very interesting so we asked him if we could join the group.

Elle. We then started research in the spring semester. Prof. Rushton told us about URECA and encouraged us to apply so that we could work full time instead of just a few hours a week.

When you started, did you have a lot of statistical software background knowledge?
Maitreyee. Elle took AP Statistics in high school and I took an introductory statistics course here. But then once we started, we learned programs like SPSS and R.

Elle. And before we even began doing our statistical analyses, we started out by reading a lot of articles and writing summaries to get a background on what’s already been studied and what we would be looking at for our projects.

How did you find the experience of working together?
Elle. We get along really well, and were very efficient working together. We’re able to delegate tasks well. So even when when we’re working on the same project, each of us can do something different. Maitreyee likes to make graphs and focus on visual aspects. She’s better at that. I like working with the numbers/data analysis.  .  

Tell me about the general lab atmosphere.
Maitreyee. Prof. Rushton is very supportive. He likes to have us try to figure out what we’re going to do first. After we report back with questions or show him what we’ve accomplished so far, he’ll give us comments. But he gives us room to experiment first which we find is very helpful in developing our skills.

Elle. We have a postdoc and a graduate student in our group too. So we’ve been exposed to what they’re doing and sometimes are able to help out with their projects—say, finding a source online for a claim, or working on the regression analysis section. We learned a lot about working with other people from these interactions. That has been really helpful for us.

What do you think you’ve learned from research that you wouldn’t from classes alone?
Maitreyee. I’m not majoring in AMS –so I’ve definitely gotten more exposure to the statistical programs than I might have from my coursework. But beyond that, I’ve got a better sense of how to do research – particularly from working on the literature reviews. I learned that you really have to back up any claims you make. In the proposals we’ve worked on– almost every sentence that you say, you have to cite evidence for the claim you are making.

Elle. One thing we didn’t expect when we first began doing research was how long it can take to complete certain steps in the research. When we started doing the literature review at the beginning for the data request for ACT, we were expecting to have that submitted within 1-2 weeks. But it took a few weeks instead! I guess realizing that everything will take longer than you expect was a valuable lesson we learned.

What do you most enjoy about research?
Maitreyee.  I really like interacting with the graduate student, post doc, and our professor. We always had lots of help from the grad student and postdoc if we were stuck. But perhaps the coolest thing we got to do was work on a presentation for the Biennial Chemistry Conference that Prof. Rushton is at right now. We helped make the graphs and work on some of the statistical analysis for the data he is presenting. So that was really fun!

Elle. I really like doing the math and the statistical analyses for these projects. For me, it’s confirmed that I want to go into that in the future.

What advice do you have for other students about research?
Elle. Start early. We were very glad to get this opportunity to experience doing research over the summer. So don’t be afraid to talk to a professor – because most are really very approachable. Even if they say no, or that they don’t have any openings – they may have other recommendations. So reach out early and don’t be afraid to explore.

How has your knowledge about the field of STEM education made you reflect on your own experiences in high school/elementary school?
Maitreyee.  I’ve realized that the traditional teaching style of lecturing may not be ideal, and that an approach that emphasizes inquiry-based learning, modelling, and hands-on methods may have helped me learn more. But I had pretty good teachers throughout my education and that really helped me to be interested in STEM. One thing we’ve looked at in our research is whether gender has an influence in students’ interest in STEM. Women sometimes do not go into STEM because there aren’t as many teachers that are female. But for me, I had a couple of math and science teachers who were women – and that probably influenced me somehow.

Elle. I had many good teachers and am grateful for the education I got also. But doing this research has really opened my eyes to the fact that there are achievement and knowledge gaps across the country—and there are a lot of students who don’t get a good background in STEM or have a good experience with it because of the way they are taught, or the curriculum they’re exposed to.  

Was it helpful for you to be able to devote a summer to research?
Maitreyee. During the year, we could only do 3-4 hours a week…so I’m really grateful that we got this opportunity. If we hadn’t got the URECA grant, we wouldn’t have been able to stay on campus and do research. As Elle said, everything takes much longer than you think it will take to accomplish. 

Elle. Over the summer, when we were working full time, we were able to make a lot more progress from working more hours. We also benefitted from being around our professor and other members of our research group and from having more time to interact with them.  We really liked working with our group and are really grateful for the opportunity to get a full immersion to doing research and to working with our group. We wouldn’t have been able to stay here without the URECA support.

I understand you both are going to be TAs in the fall semester for Chem 152. Are you looking forward to being involved in teaching?
Elle and Maitreyee (both). Yes!...We’re excited!