Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity

Prior Research

Student-Focused Research Projects

Graduate Climate in Science and Engineering

The Science and Engineering Graduate Student Experience Survey explores the extent to which graduate students feel comfortable and supported in their department.  It asks questions about classroom experiences, laboratory experiences, department climate, professional development, relationships with faculty and mentors, academic program status and work/family balance.  The graduate climate survey has been administered multiple times at the University of Washington during the term of the UW ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant.

Selected Publications

Litzler, E. and Edwards Lange, S. (2006). Differences in Climate for Undergraduate and Graduate Women in Engineering: The Effect of Context. Proceedings of the 2006 American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Chicago.

Litzler, E., Edwards Lange, S., and Brainard, S.G. (2005). Climate for Graduate Students in Science and Engineering Departments. Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Portland.

Mentoring Program & Graduate Student Tracking

The Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity has administered and evaluated a graduate mentoring program for graduate students in science and engineering fields, with a focus on women and under-represented minorities. CERSE offered two mentoring programs: The Faculty and Graduate Mentoring Program and the Nanotechnology Mentoring Program. CERSE used evaluation data from the mentoring program and student tracking data, with approval of the UW Institutional Review Board, to answer important questions about graduate student progress. This research was partially funded by the NSF IGERT for nanotechnology and the NSF National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) grant.

The student tracking system created by CERSE includes three questionnaires. One is administered to students upon entry to the program, the next is administered to students at the end of each year in the program, and the last is administered shortly after graduation from the program.

Selected Publications

Blaser, B., Wheeless, A. & Litzler, E. (2007). “Enhanced Connections: Making Changes to Mentoring Programs for Science and Engineering Graduate Students.” WEPAN Annual Meeting Proceedings, Orlando, FL.

Wheeless, A., Blaser, B. & Litzler, E. (2007). “Mentoring of graduate students in STEM: Perceptions and Outcomes”. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Honolulu.

Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE)

PACE logoFunded primarily by The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation with a supplemental grant from The Engineering Information Foundation, the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE) was an eight year, multi-site mixed mode research and intervention project intended to identify issues that affect persistence rates among engineering undergraduates. While this grant is currently over, CERSE continues to work on manuscripts from this data. PACE is headquartered at the Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity at the University of Washington and pays specific attention to the intersection of race, gender and academic experience. The PACE survey, which was designed and pre-tested to accurately measure undergraduate engineering climate (culture), was administered online in 2008 to students at all 22 PACE institutions and again in 2012 at 16 of the PACE institutions. The new 2012 survey results enable assessment of the change in climate at the PACE schools.   The survey included questions about their experiences in the classroom and the laboratory and also about their interactions with peers, professors, teaching assistants and administrators. In addition, the survey asks questions about challenges to work-life balance, academic self-confidence; future career plans and the roles students believe race, ethnicity and gender play in today’s engineering departments. Qualitative data was also collected through one-on-one interviews and focus groups with students. Schools received reports that summarized the survey results and offered benchmarking data for up to three peer institutions. Reports also integrated the quantitative and qualitative results and offered a list of recommendations to improve retention.

The goal of PACE is to identify and address university climate issues to improve retention for all undergraduate engineering students.

Selected Publications

Litzler, E. & Lorah, J.A. (2018). Degree Aspirations of Undergraduate Engineering Students at the Intersection of Race/Ethnicity and Gender. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 24(2): 165-193. DOI:10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.2018017998

Samuelson, C.C. & Litzler, E. (2016).  Community Cultural Wealth: An Assets-Based Approach to Persistence of Engineering Students of Color.  Journal of Engineering Education,105(1): 93-117.  DOI 10.1002/jee.20110

Litzler, E., Samuelson, C.C., & Lorah, J.A. (2014). Breaking it Down:  Engineering Student STEM Confidence at the Intersection of Race/Ethnicity and Gender. Research in Higher Education. DOI: 10.1007/s11162-014-9333-z

Young, J. & Litzler, E. (September, 2013). “Investigating the Factor Structure and Invariance of Transfer Student Adjustment to College using Confirmatory Factor Analysis.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice.

Litzler, E. & Young, J. (April, 2012) “Understanding the Risk of Attrition in Undergraduate Engineering: Results from the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering.” Journal of Engineering Education. 101(2): 319-345.

Litzler, E., Jaros, S., Metz, S., & Brainard, S.G. (2010). “Gender and Race/Ethnicity in Engineering: Preliminary Findings from the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering.” Proceedings of the 2010 American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Louisville, KY.

Metz, S., Brainard, S.G. & Litzler, E. (2010). “Extending Research into Practice: Results from the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE).” Proceedings of the 2010 American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Louisville, KY.

Ten-Year Longitudinal Study

CERSE conducted a 10-year longitudinal study tracking female engineering and science students from the point of entry in college through graduation to examine persistence and attrition factors. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Selected Publications

Huang, P.M. and Brainard, S.G. (2001). Identifying Determinants of Academic Self-Confidence in Science, Math, Technology, and Engineering Students. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 7(4), 317-339.

Brainard, S.G. and Carlin, L. (1998, October). A Six-Year Longitudinal Study of Undergraduate Women in Engineering and Science. Journal of Engineering Education, 87 (4),369-375.

Undergraduate Retention and Career Outcomes Study (URCOS)

Funded by NSF, URCOS built upon a ten-year longitudinal study of female undergraduate science and engineering students at the University of Washington. The goal of the study was to identify career outcomes of undergraduate education in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields by collecting longitudinal data of students’ experiences beyond the bachelor’s degree.

In addition to UW, two higher education institutions participated as pilot sites: the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. Two of the pilot sites have well-developed WISE programs with a broad range of services; UPRM has related support services. The outcomes of this study include:

  • A template for a user-friendly data collection method for tracking student support program participation and career outcomes.
  • A web-mediated survey instrument and data collection method used by institutions nationwide and analyzed by CERSE.
  • An exit survey and a professional survey to gather career outcomes information.
  • The results of a pilot-test at three institutions.

Selected Publications

Litzler, E., Edwards Lange, S. and Mody, P. (2006). Retention Rates and Differences between Leavers and Stayers. WEPAN Proceedings, Pittsburgh.

Litzler, E., Edwards Lange, S. and Brainard, S. (2005). Career Outcomes of Science and Engineering Graduates. WEPAN / NAMEPA Proceedings, Las Vegas.

University of Washington Undergraduate Climate in Science and Engineering

If the climate of a department in Science and Engineering is inhospitable, it can adversely affect the retention of women and underrepresented minority students. To better understand the climate for undergraduate engineering students at the University of Washington, CERSE created the Engineering Undergraduate Student Experience Survey. CERSE conducted an 8-year assessment of the climate in engineering at the University of Washington to evaluate male and female students’ perceptions of the quality of their engineering experience.

The survey is based on the WEPAN national climate survey. The survey asks fifty-nine questions, most of which assess student experiences. It asks questions about the quality of faculty teaching, quality of teaching assistants, quality of lab work, academic confidence, discrimination, and organizational involvement. Nine questions relate to demographic information, so that the responses can be linked to gender, ethnicity, year in school, and citizenship status.

Selected Publications

Litzler, E. and Edwards Lange, S. (2006). Differences in Climate for Undergraduate and Graduate Women in Engineering: The Effect of Context. Proceedings of the 2006 American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Chicago.

WEPAN National Climate Survey

CERSE designed and implemented a WEPAN national climate survey at 29 institutions to assess the climate for male and female students in engineering. Funded by the Engineering Information Foundation.


Brainard, S.G., Metz, S.S., and Gillmore, G. (1999). WEPAN Pilot Climate Survey: Exploring the Environment for Undergraduate Engineering Students. Proceedings of the 1999 IEEE/ISTAS Conference on Women and Technology: Historical and Professional Perspectives.


Nanotechnology and Nanoscience related research

Nanotechnology Workforce – Career Pathways, Perceptions of Risks, and Public Awareness

CERSE  interviewed nanoscientist and nanoengineers at four NNIN sites regarding three areas: 1) Career pathways of men and women scientists; 2) Perceptions of risks and benefits of technology; and 3) Views on social and ethical awareness in the nanotechnology community. The four institutions were Cornell, Georgia Tech, Stanford and the University of Washington (UW). A total of 49 nanoscientists were interviewed.
Findings include:

  • Perceptions of risk by nanoscientists are persistently associated with safety precautions within the lab rather than any potential benefits or risks of the results.
  • Fifty-seven percent (57%) of participants mentioned that some kind of training would be beneficial in providing awareness of nanotechnology social and ethical issues for faculty. Responses also included a request for web-based training and in-person discussions.
  • More male nanoscientists are drawn into the field out of an intrinsic interest or excitement, whereas more female scientists enter the field as a tool rather than an end-in-itself.


Savath, V. & S.G. Brainard. (Special Edition 2013). “Managing Nanotechnology Risks in Vulnerable Populations: A Case for Gender Diversity.” Review of Policy Research.

Scientific Communication about Social and Ethical Issues Related to Nanotechnology

Building on research in the ethnography of communication, the aim is to identify how scientists and engineers talk about science, society, and ethics. The study is based on four years of fieldwork and in-depth interviews with 20 nanoscience faculty at the University of Washington Center for Nanotechnology. Specific notions about scientific responsibility, interdisciplinary collaboration, and communicating with other scientists and the public are examined. (Study ended 2009).

Nanoethics Course

A special topics course in nanoethics was developed and taught (Winter 2009) by Marjorie Olmstead (Physics) and Deborah Bassett (CERSE). The course attracted 15 students (including 2 postdocs and a visiting scholar from Europe) from science and engineering, social sciences, and the humanities. The course featured weekly presentations from faculty involved with nanotech and studies of nanotech from across the UW campus and Robert McGinn (NNIN SEI researcher from Stanford). Students in the course developed short case studies on ethical aspects of nanotechnology to be used as study guides by future students and industry.

Teaching Nanoethics to Graduate Students a presentation for the 2009 Nanoethics Graduate Education Conference details the findings of the course

The Frontiers in Nanotechnology class, which addresses societal and ethical issues in Nanotechnology, fulfills NSF-NNIN requirements for ethical education. Training is now a mandatory step in new user registration and training sessions are usually held monthly depending on user demand. Class curricula have been developed through several iterations of instructors, including an education and outreach coordinator, and graduate students in electrical engineering, philosophy, and chemistry.

An additional course in the Responsible Conduct of Research was created for CITI training by Dr. Suzanne Brainard in 2008. The chapter titled, “Responsibilities of Mentors and Trainees” can be found in J. Borenstein (Ed.) CITI Course in the Protection of Human Research Subjects: Ethical Dimensions of Engineering Research

Public Health and Nanotechnology Perceptions

A research project entitled “Perceived Risks and Hazards of Nanotechnology Development – Comparisons among Faculty at the University of Washington Affiliated with Nanotechnology / Nanoscience and Environmental Health Science” was completed and submitted as a graduate student’s master’s thesis in public health.

This study surveyed University of Washington faculty associated with the Center for Nanotechnology or the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences.  Faculty members (116) were invited to participate in an online or phone survey; 52 responded.  The study objectives were to measure and evaluate differences between nanotechnologists/nanoscientists and environmental health scientists in behavior, knowledge, beliefs and attitudes relating to nano-development.  The hypotheses were that 1) environmental health scientists would perceive greater risk and greater need for nano-development regulation and public awareness than would nanotechnologists/nanoscientists and that 2) nanotechnologists/nanoscientists would perceive greater benefit to nano-development than would environmental health scientists.  Variances in knowledge, communication, and attitudes including trust, regulation and perceived benefits and risks were examined in order to better understand cross-disciplinary differences.

The results of this study mirrored previous findings (2004 Cobb and Macoubrie study and 2005 Macoubrie study) including 1) that people with more knowledge of nanotechnology are more likely to think the benefits of nano-development will outweigh the risks; 2) that there is a general lack of definition of nanotechnology among the field’s own community; and 3) that there is lack of trust in regulatory agencies to prevent hazards from nano-development.

Executive Summary of Public Health and Nanotechnology Research

Selected Publications

Hughes, C. A.; Gilbert, S. G.; Meischke, H. W.; Litzler, E. (2007). “Perceived Risks and Hazards of Nanotechnology.” Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting, Charlotte, North Carolina.

Identifying and Analyzing the Discourse(s) of Nanotechnology and Nanoscience

The research project entitled “Identifying and Analyzing the discourse(s) of nanotechnology and nanoscience” was concluded in 2009.  This project was the basis for Deborah Bassett’s Ph.D. dissertation in communication.

The study consisted of an ethnography of communication that identified the various discourses about social and ethical implications of nanotechnology and nanoscience (SEIN), and in so doing, provided a taxonomy that enables researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds to engage with each other, as well as with the media, and the public at large in meaningful discussion about nanotechnology and nanoscience. Drawing upon literature in intercultural communication, this study identified what issues related to SEIN are considered significant within different discourse communities (e.g., nanoscientists, social scientists, ethicists, popular media, the public at large, etc.), described how these issues are talked about (e.g., what imagery or metaphors are used to discuss SEIN), and suggested ways in which the various discourses might be appropriated in order to promote collaboration among the discourse communities (e.g., an interdisciplinary research team).


Allen, E. & Bassett, D. (2008). “Listen up! The need for public engagement in nanoscale science and technology.” Nanotechnology Law & Business. 4 (5). 429-439.

Bassett, D.  (2012). “Notions of Identity, Society, and Rhetoric in a Speech Code of Science Among Scientists and Engineers Working in Nanotechnology.” Science Communication. 34(1): 115-159.

Nanotechnology Workforce

A survey focusing on the nanotechnology personnel needs of companies and demographics of the nanotechnology workforce at these same companies was developed.

Some data on the future nanotechnology workforce was collected from students in the University of Washington interdisciplinary nanotechnology Ph.D. program, and students who had taken nanotechnology courses.

Student perceptions of Social and Ethical Issues in Nanotechnology
Future Nanotechnology Workforce?

The Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity compiled the following information and it is currently listed on the University of Washington Center for Nanotechnology User Facility webpage. (

Mentoring and Tracking of Nanotechnology Graduate Students

In 2001, the Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) partnered with the Center for Nanotechnology (CNT) at the University of Washington to develop a system to track student progress through the new, interdisciplinary program in Nanotechnology and to create the Nanotechnology Graduate Student Mentoring Program. The report linked below is the fifth annual report from the Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity detailing the major findings from student tracking and from the mentoring evaluations.

The report for the 2004-2005 academic year indicated:

  • 80.2% of students throughout the cohorts report that their program of study is preparing them for both academic and non-academic career choices.  10.5% report preparation for academic careers only, 9.3% report preparation for non-academic careers only.
  • Although many students (58%) see themselves in private industry after graduation, most (71%) are finding or choosing jobs in post-doctoral or other academic positions.
  • Many students feel that the Nanotechnology Ph.D. program has positively and significantly impacted their career development (46.2%) and knowledge of nanotechnology (80.2%).  However, only 11.4% report that the program has greatly expanded their industry contacts and interaction.

Executive Summary of 2005-2006 Report on Nano Mentoring Program and Tracking