David E. Drew  

Education is the key to lifting people out of poverty and to transforming our society. Click here for details
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Personal Narrative

My research interests focus on the improvement of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and research. My latest book about reforming STEM education was published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

I also conduct research and write about higher education, and, to a lesser degree, about technology and about health/health education.

I am a sociologist who employs both quantitative and qualitative techniques in his research, but who enjoys the former more. I like building mathematical and statistical models. Much of my work has been comprised of evaluation studies.

I have chosen to explore several different areas beyond education partly because I have a low boredom threshold, and partly because I believe transdisciplinary research can stimulate creativity and the generation of new perspectives.

Basic Principles

Several deeply held conclusions drive my thinking:

  • All programs and policies should be evaluated rigorously. We should always base decisions on empirical facts and findings, not on a catchy idea that happens to fit our political views..
  • Education is the key to lifting people out of poverty and to transforming our society. Education is the most potent weapon for confronting and overcoming the systemic inequities and barriers that hold marginalized people down.
  • The principal factors preventing many students from studying or mastering crucial subjects are psychological and sociological barriers, not matters of aptitude or funding. Do not let anyone tell you that you are not smart enough to get the education you want and need.

How I've Changed

In retrospect, I would identify two major changes in my scholarship and perspective since I completed my PhD:

  • As a student, I was drawn to the overlap between the social sciences and mathematics. Early in my career, I fully enjoyed conducting multivariate statistical analysis of data (still do). At that point, I didn't care whether the data were about education or health or computers or national defense. Then I changed. It became important to me to study substantively meaningful questions and to try to conduct research that might change our world for the better.
  • When I secured my first university faculty position, I defined myself as a researcher who happened to teach. Then I changed. I found teaching and mentoring to be rewarding, important work. I realized one day that, if I stopped working the next day, my teaching and mentoring would represent my most valuable professional legacy.

A Brief Narrative

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains. This town, straight out of Norman Rockwell, was labeled "Hometown USA" during World War II. I lived close to Lake George, a serenely beautiful lake surrounded by green mountains, blue skies, and white clouds.

I attended Syracuse University as an undergraduate, majoring in sociology at the Maxwell School. Along the way, I had explored majors in physics, mathematics, political science, philosophy, pre-med, and pre-law. I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years driving a tractor in a Hawaiian pineapple cannery. Reflection from that distance helped me settle the choice of a major.

Next I pursued graduate work at Harvard University, and received a master's degree in social and clinical psychology, studying with world-class scholars, e.g., sociologist Talcott Parsons and psychologist Henry Murray.

I then spent four years as a programmer (which today would be termed "software engineer") at the Harvard Computing Center. I was appointed head applications programmer, with a staff of 25, at the age of 24, and had to learn a lot about management fast! This was in an earlier era for technology and we prepared programs for huge main-frame computers on punch cards. This was an exciting time to be learning about, and programming, computers.

I led major projects to develop and test information storage and retrieval systems for the Harvard University Press and the Harvard Medical School/International Kidney Transplant Registry. In the latter project, I was privileged to work with Dr. Joseph Murray (no relation to Henry), the major pioneer of transplantation who was later awarded the Nobel Prize. I also developed technology plans for the Psychology Department and the School of Education.

I returned to graduate study and received a PhD in the Sociology of Education from Harvard. My dissertation, The Impact of Reference Groups on the Several Dimensions of Competence in the Undergraduate Experience, was a multivariate, secondary analysis of longitudinal data. The faculty supervisory committee comprised William Spady, the chair, David McClelland and Seymour Martin Lipset.

In my last year as a graduate student, I also had an appointment in a research faculty position, as staff sociologist in a national study of nonpublic schools.

While in high school, college, and graduate school I worked at a wide range of jobs, including lathe operator, truck driver, tractor driver, retail clerk, custodian, waiter, busboy, bartender, research assistant for a paper company, photographer's assistant, clerk for a linen wholesaler, milkman (milk companies used to deliver milk daily to people's homes), postman, movie extra, and, briefly, vocalist in a nightclub. While I sought these jobs because I needed the money, they provided important learning experiences for me.

After receiving my PhD, I worked for 9 years in nonprofit research organizations. This began with a dream job as one of four researchers collaborating with Alexander W. Astin in the Office of Research at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C. We each were provided with a small staff consisting of a programmer and a secretary and with access to the best data base about college students in the world. Our job was to conduct research and publish! I was appointed associate director for information systems and published studies of Vietnam veterans entering college, Jewish college students, relative deprivation theory, and undergraduate science reform.

Next I directed a 25 person team in a study at the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences. We evaluated a 2 billion dollar (inflation adjusted) National Science Foundation funding program targeted at improving university research and graduate education. This work yielded a book, Science Development: An Evaluation Study. Then I joined the Rand Corporation as a senior scientist in the Information Science Department. I was co-director of a project about biomedical research in the nation's universities, conducted for the White House, and also conducted research about health care delivery systems targeting hypertension, and officer accession in the military.

I was invited to give a guest lecture at the (then) Claremont Graduate School, which was followed by an invitation to teach a summer school class, which was followed by an adjunct position during the academic year, which ultimately led to an invitation to leave Rand and join the Claremont Graduate University (CGU) faculty. I made that transition and have worked happily at CGU ever since.

After nine years in research organizations, I had published three books (two that I edited) and numerous articles and peer-reviewed technical reports. This eased my move to academia and my later promotion to a tenured position.

In conclusion, some favorite quotations:

  • Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive, or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within. Stephen Jay Gould
  • We only become what we are by the radical and deep seated refusal of that which others have made of us. John Paul Sartre
  • There are plateaus, but you must not stay there. You must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level. Bruce Lee
  • Savor Every Sandwich Warren Zevon
  • There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror reflecting it. Edith Wharton