Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biotechnology Science and Engineering

Committee Chair

Joseph Ng

Committee Member

Neil Lamb

Committee Member

Debra Moriarity

Committee Member

Sandra Lampley

Committee Member

Sara Cline


Bioinformatics--Research, Science--Study and teaching, Technology--Study and teaching, Engineering--Study and teaching, Mathematics--Study and teaching


A novel intervention to introduce undergraduate students to bioinformatics, provide authentic research opportunities, and support student retention in science majors and careers is presented in the Characterizing Our DNA Exceptions (CODE) project. The need to increase the number of qualified STEM graduates, particularly in the fields of bioinformatics and computational research, was the impetus for this project that leads students down the path of scientific discovery as they characterize genomic variants of uncertain significance (VUS). This study sought to examine if student participation in a CODE research project would increase their bioinformatics awareness, interest, comfort, and knowledge, as well as the psychosocial measures of science self-efficacy, identity as a scientist, and intention to persist in a STEM major or career. Using the theoretical framework of Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), the author hypothesized that students would see a positive shift in these constructs. Student participants at 17 colleges and universities completed pre- and post-project questionnaires. Data analysis using paired sample t-tests showed significant positive shifts in participant awareness, comfort, and knowledge of bioinformatics concepts. Students also gained significant improvements in their science self-efficacy and science identity. The measures for participant interest and intent to remain in STEM ranked high on the pre-surveys and showed non-significant increases following participation in a CODE project at their institution. Facilitator surveys provided positive feedback and formative suggestions for the program. Comments in the student interviews highlighted the program's strength in building student confidence and research experience. Many previous studies related to bioinformatics education activities have shown increased student knowledge following participation, but few have examined psychosocial changes in science self-efficacy, identity as a scientist, and persistence in science. This study highlights the transformative potential of bioinformatics research projects within the CODE program. CODE presents a promising model for enhancing science identity and self-efficacy in undergraduate students and facilitating the cultivation of a diverse and skilled STEM workforce.



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