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More than half of first-year college students from historically underrepresented racial or ethnic groups plan to pursue a major in the sciences or engineering, but only about 17 percent do, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Wisconsin's Angela Byars-Winston and her colleagues examined various factors that influence persistence in the sciences. As they report in CBE-Life Sciences Education, they surveyed 688 undergraduate science majors from historically underrepresented; they also surveyed twice as many women as men. From this, they found both role models and verbal encouragement were important factors for persistence. At the same time, they found that African-American men reported more anxiety about their research performance than other groups and that Hispanic/Latina women reported significantly higher science identity.

The researchers add that their findings and models could inform efforts to diversify the scientific workforce. "Funding agencies are asking for quantifiable data on the return on their investment in programmatic interventions [for underrepresented minority students]," Byars-Winston says in a statement. "They want evidence that the programs they are funding are achieving increased participation and broader participation and higher persistence of people in those programs. The questions they want to ask have to be statistically tested and modeled."