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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