Matt Hagler awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Matthew Hagler, a second year clinical psychology student in the Rhodeslab, has been selected for a highly competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  Matt plans to explore the long-term influence of high school teacher support and the factors that lead to the acquisition of mentors among first generation students at UMB. Identifying barriers to (and strategies for) recruiting professor, staff, and other support is likely to shed important light onto how we might reduce attrition and improve retention of vulnerable students in STEM and related fields. In doing so, this work will make original and valuable contributions to fostering a more diverse, globally-engaged science and engineering workforce.

Matt’s proposal to study first-generation students at UMass Boston stems from his interest in the educational outcomes of vulnerable populations and the role of relationships in attenuating risk.  For his Master’s, Matt capitalized on data from the control group of a large, experimental evaluation to explore the acquisition of natural mentors in vulnerable youth. This resulted in an original contribution since previous studies of natural mentors have examined only the correlates and outcomes of pre-existing relationships, leaving the direction of influence unclear. His analyses, which highlighted the role of both risk and social competencies in students’ efforts to recruit help, have implications for both theory and intervention. Building on this study, we have been examining the ways in which social isolation and poverty conspire to limit students’ access to mentors. We drew on the national Adolescent Health data set. The results indicated that more impoverished students had fewer mentors, and that the mentoring that they did receive tended to be more kinship based, less focused on identity development, and less likely to provide bridges to new opportunities (Raposa et al., under review). Matt also led a study in which he drew on the Add Health data set to examine the particular role of teacher support. Remarkably, students who indicated that they had high school mentors were not only more likely to enroll in college, they were more likely to complete college (Hagler et al., in preparation). This suggests a new point of entry for interventions designed to improve the secondary educational outcomes of vulnerable students. Again, however, he found that across all indicators of neighborhood risk and student poverty, less advantaged students had fewer opportunities to connect with teacher mentors. As a follow-up, we are currently drawing on Gallup poll data to determine how disadvantage is perpetuated at the college level and how it might be redressed.

Matt plans to build on this growing body of work to collect his own data in an effort to better understand the long-term influence of high school teacher support and the factors that lead to the acquisition of mentors at the college level.