Shima Salehi is a Research Assistant Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education, and the director of IDEAL research lab, the research component of Stanford IDEAL initiative to promote inclusivity, diversity, equity and access in learning communities. Her research focuses on how to use different instructional practices to teach science and engineering more effectively and inclusively. For effective science and engineering education, Dr. Salehi has studied effective scientific problem-solving and developed empirical framework for main problem-solving practices to train students in. Based on these findings, she has designed instructional activities to provide students with explicit opportunities to learn these problem-solving practices. These activities have been implemented in different science and engineering courses. For Inclusive science and engineering, she examines different barriers for equity in STEM education and through what instructional and/or institutional changes they can be addressed. Her recent works focus on what are the underlying mechanisms for demographic performance gaps in STEM college education, and what instructional practices better serve students from different demographic backgrounds. Salehi holds a PhD in Learning Sciences and a PhD minor in Psychology from Stanford University, and received a B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology, Iran. She is the founder of KhanAcademyFarsi, a non-profit educational organization which has provided service to Farsi-speaking students, particularly in under-privileged areas.

Academic Appointments

Research Interests

  • Assessment, Testing and Measurement
  • Brain and Learning Sciences
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Data Sciences
  • Diversity and Identity
  • Equity in Education
  • Higher Education
  • Math Education
  • Psychology
  • Science Education
  • Technology and Education

2023-24 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Examining the potential and pitfalls of ChatGPT in science and engineering problem-solving FRONTIERS IN EDUCATION Wang, K. D., Burkholder, E., Wieman, C., Salehi, S., Haber, N. 2024; 8
  • Discovering Players′ Problem-Solving Behavioral Characteristics in a Puzzle Game through Sequence Mining Wang, K. D., Liu, H., DeLiema, D., Haber, N., Salehi, S., Assoc Computing Machinery ASSOC COMPUTING MACHINERY. 2024: 498-506
  • Introducing the Problem-Solving Template as a Tool for Equity: Addressing Incoming Preparation Disparities J. Chem. Educ. Schwartz Poehlmann, J. K., Nardo, J. E., Rojas, M., Salehi, S. 2024; 101 (3): 1332–1340
  • The STEMentors Program: Promoting the Academic Readiness and Community Building of Students within General Chemistry JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION Deweese, D., Nardo, J., Applebaum, I., Sundrani, S., Zur, A., Waymouth, R. M., Poehlmann, J., Salehi, S. 2023; 101 (1): 88-96
  • Global perspectives of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning science in higher education. PloS one Salehi, S., Ballen, C. J., Bolander Laksov, K., Ismayilova, K., Poronnik, P., Ross, P. M., Tzioumis, V., Wieman, C. 2023; 18 (12): e0294821


    The COVID-19 pandemic required higher education institutions to rapidly transition to Emergency Remote Instruction (ERI) with little preparation. Discussions are now underway globally to learn the lessons of COVID-19 and to use this knowledge to shape the future of learning science in higher education. In this study, we examined the experiences of instructors and students to ERI in three universities across three continents-America, Europe, and Australia. We measured the instructional strategies used by instructors including assessment types, and interaction opportunities during and outside class schedules. We also measured the learning challenges experienced by students including planning, distractions, technology, learning resources, their views on educational quality and what characterized quality interactions during ERI. Our findings suggest that most instructional strategies used by instructors changed little during ERI, although the nature of instructor and student interactions during class relied more heavily on technology. Students reported significant learning challenges which included distractions from their physical and social media environments and access to technology. Both instructors and students reported that interactions with each other and their peers were concerningly low, albeit similar to pre COVID-19 pandemic levels. There were differences in the perceptions of instructors and students on whether instructor-student interactions were better or worse online. Common among all universities, there was a large proportion of students reporting mental health and work-related stress. Lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic include ensuring more support for instructors to implement effective and equitable pedagogies and an increased recognition of the importance of practicals, and the social, interactive and hands-on aspects of learning science in higher education. We predict that the incorporation of active learning pedagogies and strategies which increase student engagement and foster a sense of belonging will be ongoing global challenges for learning science in a post COVID-19 campus.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0294821

    View details for PubMedID 38060473

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC10703257

  • Pathways of opportunity in STEM: comparative investigation of degree attainment across different demographic groups at a large research institution INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF STEM EDUCATION Costello, R. A., Salehi, S., Ballen, C. J., Burkholder, E. 2023; 10 (1)
  • Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic preparation and performance: a complex picture of equity FRONTIERS IN EDUCATION Burkholder, E. W., Salehi, S. 2023; 8
  • Impact of Prompting Engineering Undergraduates to Reflect on Their Problem-Solving Skills INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION Salehi, S., Wang, K. D., Flynn, M., Wieman, C. 2023; 39 (2): 653-667
  • A systematic review of the 60 year literature: Effects of outreach programs in supporting historically marginalized and first-generation, low-income students in healthcare education. PloS one Jenkins, E., Nardo, J. E., Salehi, S. 2022; 17 (12): e0278453


    We have reviewed over 60 years of studies on healthcare education outreach programs that are aimed to support first-generation, low-income, as well as underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups (historically marginalized students) to pursue pre-health professions. As a systematic literature review, we present the challenges studies on healthcare education outreach programs had as three main categories: 1) Design, 2) Evaluation, and 3) Analysis. 1) Designs of studies on healthcare education outreach programs often lacked theoretical foundations whereby a) the interventions did not present theories underlying a causal mechanism of inequity in health professions; and/or 1b) the defined outcome measures were not clearly aligned with the problem the intervention tried to address. 2) Evaluations of studies on healthcare education outreach programs were not always conducted effectively whereby: 2a) controlled groups were commonly absent for comparison with the intervention group; and/or 2b) post measures were solely used without pre-measures. 3) Analyses of studies on healthcare education outreach programs were not adequate whereby: 3a) the response rates and effect size were commonly low; and/or 3b) qualitative results commonly did not supplement quantitative results. Overall, our findings reveal studies on healthcare education outreach programs have common challenges that hinder the reliability of their effects supporting historically marginalized students in pursuing pre-health professions. To address such challenges with studies on healthcare education outreach programs aimed at supporting historically marginalized students, we created a decision flow chart for researchers to ask themselves: 1) how is the design guided by theoretical goals; 2) how are measurements used to evaluate success; and 3) how does the analysis lead to reliable results?

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0278453

    View details for PubMedID 36454878

  • Differential Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Female Graduate Students and Postdocs in the Chemical Sciences. Journal of chemical education Sifri, R. J., McLoughlin, E. A., Fors, B. P., Salehi, S. 2022; 99 (10): 3461-3470


    Over the past two and a half years, the COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted almost all aspects of life as people throughout the world were instructed to work-from-home. Scientific researchers, whose work is reliant on access to laboratory equipment, have been acutely impacted by these global changes. In this study, we surveyed graduate students and postdocs in the chemical sciences at a selected number of academic institutions in the United States. We found that many survey participants, especially women, experienced severely diminished research progress and increased anxiety levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through factor analysis and multiple regression modeling, we found that during this challenging time participants who reported greater levels of professional support also reported greater research progress and lower levels of anxiety. We also found that, although advisors and departments provide some forms of professional support, there are other types of support that students and postdocs still desire. This phenomenon is magnified for female and underrepresented minority participants, as they need greater levels of professional support and place immense value on the quality of their work environments. Based on these results, we have identified some ways in which departments and advisors can provide the needed support for their graduate students and postdocs, thereby providing timeless advice that is applicable to improving academic work conditions not only during a global pandemic but also in a postpandemic world.

    View details for DOI 10.1021/acs.jchemed.2c00412

    View details for PubMedID 37552542

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC9491401

  • Equitable approach to introductory calculus-based physics courses focused on problem solving PHYSICAL REVIEW PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH Burkholder, E., Salehi, S., Sackeyfio, S., Mohamed-Hinds, N., Wieman, C. 2022; 18 (2)
  • Differential Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Female Graduate Students and Postdocs in the Chemical Sciences JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION Sifri, R. J., McLoughlin, E. A., Fors, B. P., Salehi, S. 2022
  • An accurate and practical method for assessing science and engineering problem-solving expertise INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SCIENCE EDUCATION Price, A., Salehi, S., Burkholder, E., Kim, C., Isava, V., Flynn, M., Wieman, C. 2022
  • Perspectives on Active Learning: Challenges for Equitable Active Learning Implementation br JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION Nardo, J., Chapman, N. C., Shi, E., Wieman, C., Salehi, S. 2022; 99 (4): 1691-1699
  • Perspectives on Active Learning: Challenges for Equitable Active Learning Implementation JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION Nardo, J., Chapman, N. C., Shi, E., Wieman, C., Salehi, S. 2022
  • Exploring the pre-instruction gender gap in physics. PloS one Burkholder, E., Salehi, S. 2022; 17 (7): e0271184


    There is a substantial body of work in physics education looking at gender disparities in physics. Recent work has linked gender disparities in college physics course performance to disparities in high school physics preparation, but to our knowledge, the origin of the disparity in high school physics preparation is still underexplored. In a select sample, we found that women on average had lower force and motion conceptual evaluation (FMCE) pre-scores (the FMCE is a short conceptual assessment of Newton's laws), and FMCE pre-score entirely mediated the effects of high school preparation and social-psychological factors on exam performance. The gender gap in FMCE pre-scores could not be explained by differences in the number of physics courses taken in high school. Instead, we find that the gender gap in the FMCE is partially explained by female students' higher levels of general test anxiety. We hypothesize that the format of the FMCE, a timed assessment, triggers stereotype threat in female students despite being a low-stakes assessment. Therefore, instructors and researchers should take care in interpreting the results of such concept inventory scores and should re-think the way they assess understanding of physics concepts. Results of this work aligned with previous findings on gender disparity in timed exams call upon investigating gender equitable assessment formats for evaluating physics knowledge to replace timed assessments, either high or low stakes.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0271184

    View details for PubMedID 35834595

  • Inclusive Instructional Practices: Course Design, Implementation, and Discourse FRONTIERS IN EDUCATION Salehi, S., Ballen, C. J., Trujillo, G., Wieman, C. 2021; 6
  • Mixed results from a multiple regression analysis of supplemental instruction courses in introductory physics. PloS one Burkholder, E., Salehi, S., Wieman, C. E. 2021; 16 (4): e0249086


    Providing less prepared students with supplemental instruction (SI) in introductory STEM courses has long been used as a model in math, chemistry, and biology education to improve student performance, but this model has received little attention in physics education research. We analyzed the course performance of students enrolled in SI courses for introductory mechanics and electricity and magnetism (E&M) at Stanford University compared with those not enrolled in the SI courses over a two-year period. We calculated the benefit of the SI course using multiple linear regression to control for students' level of high school physics and math preparation. We found that the SI course had a significant positive effect on student performance in E&M, but that an SI course with a nearly identical format had no effect on student performance in mechanics. We explored several different potential explanations for why this might be the case and were unable to find any that could explain this difference. This suggests that there are complexities in the design of SI courses that are not fully understood or captured by existing theories as to how they work.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0249086

    View details for PubMedID 33793607

  • Mediation Analysis in Discipline-Based Education Research Using Structural Equation Modeling: Beyond "What Works" to Understand How It Works, and for Whom. Journal of microbiology & biology education Ballen, C. J., Salehi, S. 2021; 22 (2)


    Advancing the field of discipline-based education research (DBER) requires developing theories based on outcomes that integrate across multiple methodologies. Here, we describe mediation analysis with structural equation modeling as one statistical tool that allows us to further examine mechanisms underlying well-documented trends in higher education. The use of mediation analysis in educational settings is particularly powerful, as learning outcomes result from complex relationships among many variables. We illustrate how mediation analysis can enhance education research, addressing questions that cannot be easily reached otherwise. We walk through critical steps to guide decision-making in mediation analysis and apply them to questions using real data to examine performance gaps in large introductory courses in biology. Through the use of mediation analysis with structural equation modeling, we add to a growing body of research that shows diverse quantitative approaches support evidence-based teaching in higher education.

    View details for DOI 10.1128/jmbe.00108-21

    View details for PubMedID 34594447

  • Variation in Incoming Academic Preparation: Consequences for Minority and First-Generation Students FRONTIERS IN EDUCATION Salehi, S., Cotner, S., Ballen, C. J. 2020; 5
  • Variation in Incoming Academic Preparation: Consequences for Minority and First-Generation Students Front. Educ. Salehi, S., Cotner, S., Ballen, C. J. 2020; 5 (552364)
  • Can Majoring in Computer Science Improve General Problem-solving Skills? SIGCSE '20: Proceedings of the 51st ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education Salehi, S., Wang, K. D., Toorawa, R., Wieman, C. 2020: 156–161
  • Demographic gaps or preparation gaps?: The large impact of incoming preparation on performance of students in introductory physics PHYSICAL REVIEW PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH Salehi, S., Burkholder, E., Lepage, G., Pollock, S., Wieman, C. 2019; 15 (2)
  • Exploring bias in mechanical engineering students' perceptions of classmates. PloS one Salehi, S., Holmes, N. G., Wieman, C. 2019; 14 (3): e0212477


    Gender disparity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is an on-going challenge. Gender bias is one of the possible mechanisms leading to such disparities and has been extensively studied. Previous work showed that there was a gender bias in how students perceived the competence of their peers in undergraduate biology courses. We examined whether there was a similar gender bias in a mechanical engineering course. We conducted the study in two offerings of the course, which used different instructional practices. We found no gender bias in peer perceptions of competence in either of the offerings. However, we did see that the offerings' different instructional practices affected aspects of classroom climate, including: the number of peers who were perceived to be particularly knowledgeable, the richness of the associated network of connections between students, students' familiarity with each other, and their perceptions about the course environment. These results suggest that negative bias against female students in peer perception is not universal, either across institutions or across STEM fields, and that instructional methods may have an impact on classroom climate.

    View details for PubMedID 30845229

  • The impact of incoming preparation and demographics on performance in Physics I: a multi-institution comparison arXiv:1905.00389 [physics.ed-ph] Salehi, S., Burkholder, E., LePage, P. G., Pollock, S., Wieman, C. 2019
  • Tools for Science Inquiry Learning: Tool Affordances, Experimentation Strategies, and Conceptual Understanding JOURNAL OF SCIENCE EDUCATION AND TECHNOLOGY Bumbacher, E., Salehi, S., Wieman, C., Blikstein, P. 2018; 27 (3): 215–35
  • Enhancing Diversity in Undergraduate Science: Self-Efficacy Drives Performance Gains with Active Learning CBE-LIFE SCIENCES EDUCATION Ballen, C. J., Wieman, C., Salehi, S., Searle, J. B., Zamudio, K. R. 2017; 16 (4)
  • Exams disadvantage women in introductory biology PLOS ONE Ballen, C. J., Salehi, S., Cotner, S. 2017; 12 (10): e0186419


    The gender gap in STEM fields has prompted a great deal of discussion, but what factors underlie performance deficits remain poorly understood. We show that female students underperformed on exams compared to their male counterparts across ten large introductory biology course sections in fall 2016 (N > 1500 students). Females also reported higher levels of test anxiety and course-relevant science interest. Results from mediation analyses revealed an intriguing pattern: for female students only, and regardless of their academic standing, test anxiety negatively impacted exam performance, while interest in the course-specific science topics increased exam performance. Thus, instructors seeking equitable classrooms can aim to decrease test anxiety and increase student interest in science course content. We provide strategies for mitigating test anxiety and suggestions for alignment of course content with student interest, with the hope of successfully reimagining the STEM pathway as one that is equally accessible to all.

    View details for PubMedID 29049334

  • Enhancing Diversity in Undergraduate Science: Self-Efficacy Drives Performance Gains with Active Learning. CBE life sciences education Ballen, C. J., Wieman, C., Salehi, S., Searle, J. B., Zamudio, K. R. 2017; 16 (4)


    Efforts to retain underrepresented minority (URM) students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have shown only limited success in higher education, due in part to a persistent achievement gap between students from historically underrepresented and well-represented backgrounds. To test the hypothesis that active learning disproportionately benefits URM students, we quantified the effects of traditional versus active learning on student academic performance, science self-efficacy, and sense of social belonging in a large (more than 250 students) introductory STEM course. A transition to active learning closed the gap in learning gains between non-URM and URM students and led to an increase in science self-efficacy for all students. Sense of social belonging also increased significantly with active learning, but only for non-URM students. Through structural equation modeling, we demonstrate that, for URM students, the increase in self-efficacy mediated the positive effect of active-learning pedagogy on two metrics of student performance. Our results add to a growing body of research that supports varied and inclusive teaching as one pathway to a diversified STEM workforce.

    View details for DOI 10.1187/cbe.16-12-0344

    View details for PubMedID 29054921

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5749958