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The Relationships Among High School STEM Learning Experiences and Students’ Intent to Declare and Declaration of a STEM Major in College


by Martha Cecilia Bottia, Elizabeth Stearns, Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, Stephanie Moller & Ashley Dawn Parker — 2015

Background/Context: Schools are integral to augmenting and diversifying the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. This is because K–12 schools can inspire and reinforce students’ interest in STEM, in addition to academically preparing them to pursue a STEM career. Previous literature emphasizes the importance of high-quality STEM academic preparation in high school and the role of informal and formal exposure to STEM as important influences on students’ chances of following a STEM career. Interestingly, although many students decide to major in STEM fields while they are in high school, the majority of the extant literature about why students choose STEM majors primarily focuses on students’ experiences during the college years.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Through our research, we seek to investigate how learning experiences of inspiration/reinforcement/preparation toward STEM that students have during high school can help explain the stark differences in STEM involvement by gender and ethnicity. We first investigate the importance of high school inspirational/ reinforcing/ preparatory experiences for students’ intent to major in STEM while in high school. We then see how they relate to students’ actual choice of a STEM major. We do this focusing on gender and racial/ethnic differences in outcomes. Specifically, we analyze the impact of the timing of high school STEM courses (algebra, biology, and physics), the quantity of STEM-related classes, and the quality of these courses on students’ decision to pursue a college STEM major.

Research Design: This is an analysis of quantitative data gathered about members of North Carolina’s 2004 high school graduating class who also matriculated to one of the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. Our research developed in two different stages. In the first stage, we utilize multilevel binomial models to examine students’ intent to declare a STEM major in their senior year of high school. In the second stage, we employ multilevel multinomial models to analyze chances of declaring a STEM major during the years 2005–2011, when students are in college.

Findings/Results: Findings suggest that STEM experiences of inspiration/reinforcement/preparation during high school interact with demographic variables to moderate students’ interest in STEM. Taking physics and intending to major in STEM during high school are the variables most closely associated with students’ choice of STEM as a major. In addition, taking physics is especially important for young women’s odds of declaration of STEM.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Findings suggest several policy recommendations: Provide a variety of high school learning STEM experiences that will link and augment students’ interest in STEM; change the way physics is presented to female students; utilize curricula and pedagogy that focus on ways that physics is personally relevant may increase the number of young women who take the course in high school; increase the quality of the STEM-related academic preparation of students; particular attention should be given to underrepresented subgroups of students; increase the offering of math and science-focused program at schools; and increase the availability of more STEM-related co- and extracurricular experiences available to youth.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 3, 2015, p. 1-46
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17806, Date Accessed: 10/19/2017 11:11:14 PM

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About the Author
  • Martha Bottia
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    MARTHA CECILIA BOTTIA is assistant research professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research interests include the effects of school racial and socioeconomic demographic composition on various educational outcomes. She has also worked on articles related to the unequal impact of the curriculum on diverse students and on the education of Latino students. Currently, her research focuses on the role of structural characteristics of K–12 schools on the decision of students to select and graduate with a STEM major. Her other research interests include illicit drugs and terrorist organizations. Recent articles have been published in Review of Educational Research, Elementary School Journal, and Sociology of Education.
  • Elizabeth Stearns
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH STEARNS is associate professor of sociology and public policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research interests include the interplay between structural characteristics of schools and student outcomes, including gender and racial disparities in student achievement and attainment. Recent articles have been published in Social Science Research, Gender and Education, and Sociology of Education.
  • Roslyn Mickelson
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    ROSLYN ARLIN MICKELSON is professor of sociology, public policy, women and gender studies, and information technology at UNC Charlotte (RoslynMickelson@uncc.edu). Her interests include the social, cultural, and organizational contexts that support or hinder adolescents’ success in STEM fields. Her book Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. The Past, Present, and Future of (De)segregation in Charlotte, coedited with Stephen Samuel Smith and Amy Hawn Nelson, will be published by Harvard Education Press in 2014.
  • Stephanie Moller
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    STEPHANIE MOLLER is associate professor of sociology and public policy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She conducts research on income inequality within the United States and cross-nationally. She also conducts research on mathematics achievement in primary and secondary schools, examining racial, ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in achievement. Dr. Moller has published numerous articles, including articles in the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Sociology of Education, and World Politics.
  • Ashley Parker
    Teach For America
    E-mail Author
    ASHLEY DAWN PARKER is a managing director of teacher leadership development for Teach For America in Oklahoma City. Her research interests include the achievement gap in middle and secondary science education and teacher quality in urban schools. She has also worked on articles related to the impact of science identity formation and familial experiences of African American female STEM students within the North Carolina public university system. Currently, her research focuses on teacher preparation factors that influence science achievement in urban school districts within the state of Oklahoma, specifically for African American females.
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