Drs. Zumbrunn, Broda awarded $50K Spencer Foundation grant

Headshots of Sharon K. Zumbrunn, Ph.D., and Michael Broda, Ph.D.
Sharon K. Zumbrunn, Ph.D., and Michael Broda, Ph.D.

The Spencer Foundation has awarded a prestigious Research on Education Grant of $50,000 to Sharon K. Zumbrunn, Ph.D., associate professor, and Michael Broda, Ph.D., assistant professor, in the Department of Foundations of Education. The grant focuses on testing the effects of a tailored social belonging intervention delivered in first-year courses on students’ belonging, engagement, persistence and achievement.

Social belonging is a basic human motivation, but belonging uncertainty is prevalent among members from socially and economically stigmatized groups. National data show that a lower sense of belonging is more common among underrepresented minority and first-generation students, who also tend to persist in college at lower rates than their peers.

However, studies show that social belonging interventions can improve student belonging, as well as their well-being, engagement, persistence and achievement, although most of these studies have occurred in selective, private, or public flagship institutions, delivered the intervention in one-on-one sessions, and used standardized belonging stories written by researchers. These studies thus lacked generalizability and scalability and limited authenticity of the results.

In Dr. Zumbrunn’s study, there will be a collaboration with a diverse group of upper-level undergraduate student researchers to create authentic intervention materials. A group of 1,000 first-year undergraduate students across 54 classes at VCU will be recruited to determine whether the tailored social belonging intervention increases these students’ belonging, persistence, engagement and achievement.