College of Education > News and Publications > News: 2009 > New NSF Grant Enhances College of Education Research

New NSF Grant Enhances College of Education Research

National Science Foundation awards grant to Penn State senior, intensifying her involvement with Baker research designed to test formal schooling's influence on reasoning and decision-making skills.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A two-year study in Penn State’s College of Education is benefiting from a new supplemental grant that will augment the research experience of an undergraduate student member of the research team. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant to Penn State senior Carolyn Weber of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Ms. Weber is a Schreyer Honors College Scholar who is completing an education policy studies minor in Penn State’s College of Education while double-majoring in sociology and marketing.

baker_sml.jpgDavid P. Baker, professor of education and sociology, is heading the study; he nominated Ms. Weber for the REU “because of her excellent dedication, skill, and the energy she brings to the team.” Ms. Weber—who has been researching with Dr. Baker since September 2008—has been involved with data collection and English-Spanish translation.

The award will enable Ms. Weber to work intensively with the team, including traveling to Peru in November to help collect data in Andean communities. Dr. Baker praised Ms. Weber—who in spring 2009 studied abroad in the Semester at Sea program—for her keen interest in developing countries and being “one of the top” undergraduate students he has had in the last ten years. She is currently applying to the Peace Corps and for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Vietnam.

“I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had working with Dr. Baker,” Ms. Weber said. “Thinking back on the past year, I could not imagine a better way to immerse in academia as an undergraduate or prepare for my future career.”

The project is designed to test how formal schooling influences reasoning and decision-making skills for navigating everyday health risk. Titled “Explaining the Education Effect and the Demography of Risk: Comparing Unschooled and Schooled on Everyday Reasoning and Decision-making Skills about Health Behavior,” the project was begun October 1, 2008, and is scheduled to conclude September 30, 2010.

The project compares unschooled and moderately schooled adults in Peru on their numeracy ability, cognitive skill, reasoning about risk, and decision-making skills related to health behaviors. Local conditions in the Peruvian Andes allow for a naturally occurring experiment on the effects of education.

Baker notes that most demographers and health researchers acknowledge that formal schooling has a positive influence on health outcomes, but the reason for this influence is not clearly understood. It is hypothesized, he says, that schooling enhances a person’s reasoning skills, resulting in improved risk assessment and decision-making related to everyday health issues.

Co-investigators are Paul Eslinger, professor of neurology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center; Martin Benavides, a researcher with the Group for Analysis of Development, a development research organization in Lima, Peru; and Ellen Peters, senior research scientist with Decision Research, a research group in Eugene, Ore.