LSU Chemistry postdoc awarded National Science Foundation STEM Education Individual Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

January 12, 2024

Dr. Jennifer Garcia Ramos

Dr. Jennifer García Ramos, Postdoctoral Fellow, LSU Department of Chemistry

BATON ROUGE - Jennifer García Ramos, Ph.D., new postdoctoral fellow in the LSU Department of Chemistry, received the National Science Foundation STEM Education Individual Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, or STEMEdIPRF. This prestigious and highly competitive fellowship supports recent doctoral graduates in their STEM education research and career development.

“I felt relieved and happy,” said García Ramos, “because it is an intense application process.”

She was awarded $345,084 for her project titled, “Exploring the use of Artificial Intelligence in Science Communication: Promoting Identity Development and Equitable Student Learning.” She joined LSU’s Chemistry Education Research and Practice Group, led by Zakiya Wilson-Kennedy, Ph.D., who serves as her sponsor for the fellowship, in the fall of 2023.

García Ramos’ path to chemistry education began at her undergraduate university, Tarleton State University, in Stephenville, Tx. She said she has always loved chemistry, and although she double majored in both Chemistry and Biomedical Science originally, she was interested in becoming a physician. In addition to medical school internships and working at a health and counseling center, she received the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research under her chemistry professor – and now mentor – Linda Schultz, Ph.D.

Her research under Schultz focused on developing laboratory experiments using conductometric titrations to teach acid-base chemistry. Swayed by this experience and feeling discouraged by systematic injustices in the healthcare field, she said she decided to pursue a doctoral degree in chemistry at Purdue University within the Analytical/Biochemistry division.

While at Purdue, García Ramos’ passion for chemistry education solidified. After facing what she describes as some disheartening and challenging experiences in the first few years of her Ph.D. on top of the pandemic, she decided to switch her research focus to chemistry education, where she could gain the mentorship she needed to persevere and the opportunity to create a project of her own. She said she felt like this choice gave her the best of both worlds, combining her love of chemistry and passion for student learning.

“There is value in knowing how to improve education practices,” said García Ramos.

Her dissertation centered around students’ interpretations and understandings of carbohydrate molecules through illustrations. García Ramos was also involved in work that investigated the mentoring climate between historically minoritized students and their advisors.

Now at LSU, García Ramos’ current project is aimed at investigating how and why STEM students are using artificial intelligence, or AI, and how instructors can make sure they create an equitable learning experience for all students. AI is changing how students are learning in college spaces and as this technology develops, different students will need different support.

“It is vital that the experiences of students from underrepresented groups are taken into account while new AI technology is developed and used in STEM educational and professional contexts,” said García Ramos.

A large component of her current research is exploring how AI is impacting identity development amongst STEM students especially those from minoritized backgrounds – a topic close to her heart. She plans to use quantitative and qualitative methods to assess students’ experiences with confidence, competency, and identity development through the process of writing, using AI, and science communication. She hopes this research will support positive changes in STEM education and help to reduce disparities in STEM.

After completing her postdoc at LSU, García Ramos said she aspires to be a tenure track faculty member at a university continuing her research in chemistry education and said she would also love to establish and direct an Upward Bound Program to provide adequate support and resources to help students – especially those who are first-generation, low socioeconomic status, and historically underrepresented in the sciences like her – succeed in college.