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Washington State University
WSU Research Opportunity and Equity

Opportunity and equity

Promoting an informed and equitable society, expanding individual opportunity, and advancing social justice

The challenge

A skilled workforce is key to economic prosperity. But not every worker in America has the opportunity to rise to his or her full career potential. Opportunity inequality persists in employment, education, and health care. It erects barriers to personal growth and squanders priceless human capital.

WSU’s role in the solution

WSU researchers investigate causes and consequences of inequality of opportunity. They reveal new paths for expanding prospects for individuals. They find new ways to promote social justice.

Working across disciplines, scholars examine inequities in many arenas: media and politics, health care, access to communication technology, and the fragmented political landscape. In education, WSU faculty members explore reasons why science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines attract a disproportionately small number of women and people from historically underrepresented groups.

Within this Grand Challenge, scholars address several research themes, touching on issues like these:

Inequality of opportunity: Causes and consequences

  • Causes and consequences of injustice and inequality
  • Understanding history and its relevance to contemporary society
  • Social and cultural context of science and technology
  • Media’s influence in shaping societal and political discourse
  • Cultural studies in education

More about inequal opportunity

  • A closeup of Craig Parks in a studio Why people act for the common good

    Professor identifies traits that underlie human cooperation

    Social interactions depend on fairness and equity, but much of the world works because people are willing to give time, money, or other support for little or nothing in return. Citizens approve bond issues for schools and playgrounds they’ll never use. They donate to radio stations they don’t listen to and people they’ll never meet. They volunteer to fight and die in wars.

    In the WSU Department of Psychology, Professor Craig Parks has deciphered the social and psychological calculus behind caring and cooperation, distilling some common traits among public goods that succeed while others fail. He and … » More …

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Promoting equity

  • Understanding gender, race, and culture through artistic expression and critical inquiry
  • Understanding diversity from genetic through cultural levels of analysis
  • Injustice and inequality
  • Distribution of resources
  • Educational access

More about promoting equity

  • A photo of a parent talking at the front in a classroom of adults Transforming leadership to achieve equity in education

    Building parent participation and shifting administrator mindsets

    In 2010, 47 percent of children under the age of five belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group[1]. That statistic signifies a shift in the demographics of tomorrow’s classrooms.

    As the nation’s K-12 students become increasingly diverse, school environments, educational policies, and teaching best practices must take students’ cultural backgrounds into account. Research of Dr. Katherine Rodela anticipates changes needed in K-12 schools. The educational leadership professor is rethinking the role of parent leadership in school systems. She is also examining how district leaders can develop an equity mindset—the belief that by engaging members of … » More …

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  • A closeup of Kimberly Christen Promoting an informed and equitable society

    Preserving indigenous traditions in digital form

    A complete picture of U.S. history requires the information held in tribal archives, libraries, and museums (TALMs). While many major libraries and museums now digitize their collections for access and use, many TALMs lack the resources to do so. In addition, traditional content management systems are organized under Western standards, not allowing for local narrations and other cultural practices and protocols important to archiving Native heritage.

    Digitally preserving and sharing stories, artifacts, and images from diverse cultures is important in a technologically advancing world. WSU researcher Kim Christen is ensuring that digital history includes Native American voices stored and … » More …

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Policy evaluation and advancement

  • Robust analytic and modeling strategies
  • Democratization of information and digital access
  • Global competition and its impact on the United States and world economies
  • Media psychology and communication processes and effects

More about policy evaluation and advancement

  • A closeup of Julie Kmec Equity for women in the workplace

    Despite comparable levels of commitment, women don’t advance at the same rate as men

    In the past 40 years, women have assumed a larger role in the U.S. workforce. While roughly two out of five women worked for pay in the early 1970s, almost three out of five do so today[1]. But Julie Kmec, a Washington State University sociologist, has repeatedly seen how their roles, wages and mobility continue to differ dramatically from those of their male peers.

    In a study of some 800 law firms, she found that a woman’s chance of promotion decreases as she advances. Nearly 40 percent of entry-level … » More …

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Improving education

  • STEM education and educational pipelines
  • Cultural studies in education
  • Neuroscience and neuropsychology of education
  • Community public health
  • The role of technology in education

More about improving education

  • A closeup of a kid working on science Raising Washington’s grade in math and science education

    Researchers identify best practices in teaching STEM disciplines

    Education in the STEM subjects— science, technology, engineering and mathematics—serves as a steppingstone to social and economic opportunity. How can teachers inspire interest in these disciplines and make the lessons stick?

    More than 140 WSU researchers conduct collaborative STEM education research from early grades to graduate school. Their research focuses on “clinical education,” practical integration and application of knowledge to real-world educational settings. These scholars examine instruction at STEM-focused schools. They monitor outcomes to see how methods of instruction affect student learning. They strengthen understanding of best practices in teaching STEM disciplines.

    Their efforts don’t stop there. … » More …

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  • A photo of WSUTC students on campus Ensuring access and achievement

    Programs spur advances in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education

    WSU Tri-Cities is emerging as a regional hub for K-12 STEM research, education, and outreach.

    In the 2013/2014 fiscal year, one researcher received over $16 million in funding for programs to help students in educationally isolated rural schools in the inland northwest. GEAR UP, as one of the programs is called, reaches over 50 rural schools, giving middle-school and high-school students and their families guidance on how to prepare for college.

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WSU works closely with its public and private sector partners who support research to advance equal opportunity. Among the university’s collaborators in the nation’s capitol are:

Affiliated institutes, centers, and programs

Center for Environmental Research, Education, and Outreach (CEREO)

Academic and industry leaders applying innovative technologies and management tools to the challenges of global climate change and environmental sustainability

Center for Social and Environmental Justice

Fostering analysis of social, economic, racial and environmental justice issues and promoting human rights and conflict resolution at the local, national and global levels

Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service

A nonpartisan, cross-disciplinary center that advances the public’s understanding of democratic institutions, engages students in public service, and supports academic research to address society’s most vexing public policy challenges

Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute

Training future entrepreneurs how to move from an idea to sustainable realization in the marketplace

Health Science STEM Education Research Center

Over 100 WSU researchers conduct collaborative science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education research from early grades to graduate school, a vital aspect of social and economic opportunity. A key feature of this work is research that focuses on clinical education.

Learning and Performance Research Center

Studies factors related to success in work and learning environments, develops and evaluates statistical and methodological innovations, and provides evidence-based evaluations of program interventions

Social and Economic Sciences Research Center

Providing high quality survey research services to the University, to citizens, and to policy makers nationwide

Team Mentoring Program (Multicultural Student Services)

Increasing the retention, achievement, and graduation of students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines

Further information

Find out more about the University’s research pertaining to opportunity and equity.

Opportunity and Equity (pdf)