Kennesaw State undergraduate researcher presents at Posters on the Hill

KENNESAW, Ga. | Apr 29, 2019

Personal insight as first-generation college student drives project

For the second consecutive year, a Kennesaw State University undergraduate researcher has been selected to participate in Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C. Jessica Castillo Reyes, one of two students from Georgia, is among a group of participants from 60 universities and colleges who will present to members of Congress, their staffs and other government officials on April 30.

Reyes, a junior from Powder Springs, will share her findings on how to support first-generation college students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.  

“As a first-generation college student, I am very appreciative of the faculty and the opportunities I have had in statistics and data analysis here at KSU. Through my research, I want to help support my peers because I find it most satisfying when my work can make an impact,” said Reyes, who is pursuing a major in computational and applied math and a minor in statistics.    

Jessica Castillo Reyes

She analyzed the data sets that tracked the progress of fall 2017 participants in a first-year learning community based in KSU’s College of Science and Mathematics. The learning community creates a network of peers supporting one another as they transition from high school students to KSU undergraduates.  

With faculty mentor Susan Mathews Hardy, senior lecturer of statistics and analytics, Reyes wanted to identify some of the predictors of STEM retention and success of the first-generation students as compared to the non-first-generation students in the learning community.

She said that there is a distinct difference in what motivates first-generation college students and non-first-generation college students. For non-first-generation students, the most significant predictor is their first-semester GPA, while first-generation students are motivated by confidence, according to Reyes. When their math confidence is a 4 on a 5-point scale, these students are four times more likely to stay in STEM, Reyes explained, and when their confidence moves to a 5 on the scale, first-generation students are 16 times more likely to stay in STEM. Having dual enrollment or advanced placement credit results in 7 times the odds of staying in STEM, she added.

Posters on the Hill

“Since the ones with these pre-college credits are more apt to stay in STEM, I brainstormed with Professor Hardy how we can target high school students,” she explained. “One idea was forming a nonprofit organization to help students transition to college. We could have a group of first-generation college students visit high schools to talk about their experiences and the opportunities available.”

Posters on the Hill

Reyes also presented this research as an oral presentation at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, the largest conference of its kind in the U.S., which Kennesaw State hosted a couple of weeks ago.

“I am so proud of Jessica as I could not think of a more enthusiastic and passionate individual to deliver this message at Posters on the Hill,” said Hardy. “She presented her research to a standing-room-only crowd at NCUR. She then won first place for her research when she presented at KSU’s Analytics Day, and now she is working on making a difference on Capitol Hill with her research.”  

Jessica Castillo Reyes

Posters on the Hill is sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) with support from the American Chemical Society (ACS) and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA. The annual event is highly competitive as only the top undergraduates are invited to participate after being judged by a national panel of experts in their fields.

—Joëlle Walls

Photos by David Caselli; and submitted

Related Stories

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit