Nicol Howard, professor of Education

Professor pushes past boundaries to open STEM to diverse students

When she was little, Nicol Howard’s parents encouraged her exploration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies.

As a child, Howard recalls, she was so interested in the way things worked that she did things like re-wiring the home cable system and taking apart and reassembling the VCR. “I was very curious about the way things worked,” she remembers. Still, no one at school recognized her strengths or her potential to successfully pursue studies in STEM-related fields.

“My STEM-related courses in high school didn’t amplify strong black women whom I could look up to,” Howard says. “I didn’t know who to look to for the right role model or who to aspire to be in STEM during my younger years.” So, when Howard began her doctoral research, she recalled her own educational journey. Howard discovered continued inequities in STEM education, scholastic opportunities, measurements of achievement and parental involvement, and intensity of engagement that echoed her early experiences and inform her current research agenda.

“I believe that successful education is achieved when students are provided some form of encouragement, support, and/or quality academic direction,” she says. “In my teaching, I strive to be supportive and available for my own students. Through my research, I examine the potential impact of encouragement and support on achievement for underrepresented K–12 students, especially when faced with stereotypes and misinformed perceptions related to their academic ability.”

Now an assistant professor in the Teaching and Learning Department at the University of Redlands, Howard went to University of California, Los Angeles as an undergraduate, earned a master’s in educational technology from Azusa Pacific, and graduated with a Ph.D. in education from Chapman University.

Her recent article, “Using Tablet Technologies to Engage and Motivate Urban High School Students,” was published in 2017 in the International Journal of Educational Technology. It was co-authored with her research partner and husband, Keith E. Howard, an associate professor in the Attallah College of Educational Studies at Chapman University.

In their two-year study, the researchers examined the impact of using tablet technologies across content areas in an urban high school. Class observations provided notable examples of how student motivation and learning were enhanced by the use of iPads as the students collaborated, created, and learned.

The pair is also co-editing the first issue of the Journal of Computer Science Integration. Howard is also the lead author of a forthcoming book published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) titled “Closing the Gap: Digital Equity Strategies for Teacher Prep Programs,” which will be released in November 2018.

Howard appreciates the diverse backgrounds of her Redlands students “who come into education because they really want to expand their knowledge base and bring back what they learn in our program to their future K-12 classrooms.”

“Educational justice is a mission of the School of Education,” she says. “Our students come into the field seeking to make a change—to benefit all students.”