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Fostering Retention, Growth, and Belonging: A Case for Underrepresented Faculty and Students

This project aims to foster retention, growth, and belonging to underrepresented faculty and students through two complementary components. The first addresses biopsychosocial factors and the second centers on developing learning communities (LC) to put component one lessons learned into practice.
Faculty: We propose to provide underrepresented faculty an environment necessary for countering minority stress and securing psychological safety. Coaches facilitate strategies tailored to specific needs and goals and further amplify faculty’s cultural capital. An equity intervention, the coaching model acknowledges historical and systemic oppression rooted in “-isms’ and “professionalism” as rooted in cultural bias and White Supremacy. It also develops networks and skills for navigation, promotion, and joy and well-being in professional spaces. Narrative interviews will be conducted to assess experiences with microaggressions. The LC, a sustainable faculty group, will connect regularly becoming a support system. The first few meetings will review interview findings.
Students: Inclusion of underrepresented student populations is important for the University but so too is ensuring their retention/completion. This is crucial as the University strives to achieve top 10 university and Hispanic Serving Institution status. Thus, we propose to develop WRTG 2010 and WRTG 3800 to directly address and engage with rhetoric, public health, and biopsychosocial factors. WRTG 2010, a general education course, will emphasize the intersections between writing, rhetoric, public health, and biopsychosocial factors. WRTG 3800, to be co-taught between two colleges, is an elective course addressing anti-racism, social-justice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Both courses emphasize learning experiences, student success, integrative and cross-disciplinary work, and provide a foundation for implementing a learning community model to teaching and to discussions of retention/completion.

Current Status

The proposed project seeks to understand key factors to student and faculty growth, success and belonging. We hypothesize that students and faculty who feel that they belong and have the support and resources for growth and success will stay and thrive at the University of Utah.

Research over the past several decades has demonstrated the importance of students’ sense of belonging in higher education. This is especially critical for under-represented students attending Predominantly White Institutions, where the overall academic and social culture is primarily based upon the knowledge, language, and networks immersed in whiteness. As a result, students who represent various racial-ethnic heritages are likely to encounter events and experiences that impact their physical, emotional, and mental well-being and potentially, their persistence in higher education.

The first phase (student component) began in the fall semester. Students were recruited from a College of Humanities course that focuses on social justice. Students are interviewed at the beginning and end of the course and asked to measure their blood pressure and heart in addition to journal entries. The purpose of recording biometric is to identify any physiological symptoms that can possibly be associated with minority stress. Through the student interviews we were able to get in the first semester (n=4), we have initial ideas on potential themes that may be emerging. Those themes are: internalization of minority stress, necessity of navigational capital, education as a key to a higher level of success in life, and that education is a fluid construct. More students will be recruited in the Spring semester of the course to see if these initial ideas form into themes.

University faculty and peers have a role in the development of self-concept and social connectedness. Building on this research and considering Utah’s own unique faculty demographics and their different backgrounds, the faculty study component represents part of our ongoing effort to respond to the University’s call to realize its strategic goals and to see and mobilize difference not as a liability but as an asset. Centered on fostering a learning community and improving access, retention, growth, and belonging, this study opens a new avenue for us to learn from and engage with our faculty as we learn to erase obstacles, expand opportunities, and enrich experiences for faculty.

The faculty component of our project has just commenced. We have identified and signed a contract with a professional coach who has multiple years' experience in their field of coaching with most of their clients identifying as being part of an underrepresented group and/or first generation. We have recently received IRB approval for the faculty component of the project and have begun the process of recruiting faculty participants. The faculty component is devised in two parts: Part 1 involves the use of Qualtrics survey to determine study eligibility and interest in participating in the intervention. Once we identify eligible and interested participants, we will progress them to Part 2. Part 2 is comprised of 6 months of monthly coaching, pre-post interviews, monthly journal entries, optional attendance and collaborative learning meetings, and biometric monitoring (blood pressure and heart rate).


College of Health
Health & Kinesiology
Project Owner

Romeo Garcia
College of Humanities
Writing and Rhetoric

LuMing Mao
College of Humanities
Writing and Rhetoric

College of Health

Project Info

Funded Project Amount

retention, underrepresented, faculty, students, learning communities, professional coaching

Project Status
Funded 2023
Last Updated: 9/1/21