Assistant Professor, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona
“When you’re a member of a stereotyped group, you can carry that burden even when you seem to be alone,” says DBOS alumna Dr. Bettina Casad. “If a girl takes a math test, for example, she feels that pressure. ‘If I don’t perform well,’ she may be thinking, ‘They will think it’s because I’m a girl.’ Stereotype threat actually decreases working memory capacity by redirecting your cognitive resources. People worried about dealing with stereotypes actually perform worse on tests because of it. For example, simply mentioning the stereotype before a group takes an exam will decrease performance. For that matter, something as ‘innocent’ as being asked to check a box for gender or race before a test can decrease performance.”
As a new faculty member at Cal Poly Pomona in the Los Angeles suburbs, Bettina has already started working on federally-funded grants to examine ways to combat this problem, which directly affects the education and career choices of millions. “I never saw myself as a person who’d do research in schools,” she says—her dissertation and larger research program focuses on “stereotype violation,” the behavior of those who do not conform to the generally accepted norms of behavior for their group. “But my area of research has many applications. The real joy is that there is a charge within the grant to disseminate what we’ve learned from the research. Math education programs, and our education students in particular, will benefit from what we’ve found by improving math education for all students.”
The immediate applicability of Bettina’s work may be the reason for her relatively quick success. “I was in shock to win a grant my first time around,” she says. “This grant [which comes from the National Science Foundation] is very prestigious. I’m excited to have gotten a grant in my first year of teaching, and I’m grateful to what I learned from Allen!” The “Allen” she refers to is Dr. Allen Omoto, who teaches grant writing and applied social psychology at Claremont Graduate University.
Her grant looks at barriers that girls face in math and science classes. “The NSF has a new initiative to bolster women and minorities in what they call STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines. We’re going directly into the Azusa Unified School District, and combining two theoretical frameworks. We’re using the theory of planned behavior as applied to educational settings. We’ll be measuring the social norms that surround math as a discipline: looking at parent’s attitudes about gender and math, looking at teachers’ attitudes, interviewing career counselors, asking students about their own peers’ attitudes...
“We’re also trying to get a sense of students’ perceived control. Do they feel they can do well in math? Do they think they can get into college and do well? The fact is that successfully taking more math classes in K-12 leads to a higher salary later.” The intersection of disciplines needed for the project—she is working with a sociologist who specializes in gender, as well as a mathematician who specializes in math education—also fits well with the transdisciplinary work she began as a doctoral student in Claremont.
Bettina reports being very pleased with the academic freedom she has found in her career. She is free to study what she wants to study, and is pleased with the resources available to do so. “My other projects include a study related to the music industry that begins in Fall 2007,” she says. “We’re looking at stereotype violation as it affects, say, a white man working in hip-hop or a black country music singer. But we’ll have more news about that study later on!”
Whatever problems she addresses, Claremont Graduate University is proud of Dr. Bettina Casad, and has no doubt that her work is making a real difference in the world today.