What Drives Students to STEM Careers? The Role of Skill-Relevant Interests, Values, and Self-Concepts

Open Access
Author:
Angle, Melanie Nora
Area of Honors:
Psychology
Degree:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Lynn Susan Liben, Thesis Supervisor
  • William Ray, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • spatial skill
  • self-efficacy
  • career interest
  • gender difference
  • gender stereotype
  • STEM
Abstract:
Women are dramatically underrepresented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) workforce, which means that many females' intellectual potential and interests in STEM remain underdeveloped. STEM careers are essential for the advancement of society in the United States; yet with women’s untapped resources, these areas are not being fully utilized. Of particular interest in this thesis are the factors that drive students to pursue and achieve in certain domains, specifically the STEM careers. A survey was distributed to undergraduate students to examine the relationship between their self-ratings of domain-relevant skills, values, and interests and their interest in pursuing various occupations, including STEM careers and careers that require variable levels of spatial skills. Gender differences emerged in the students’ ratings of skill, value, and interest in domains, with males reporting higher levels of each in the spatial, science, mathematics, and athletic domains, while females reported higher levels in the English and foreign language domains. Participants’ ratings of their self-concept of ability in spatial skills were positively correlated with their performance on a spatial task; however this relationship was weaker for females. Finally, the students reported interest in careers that were believed to be culturally stereotyped as consistent with one’s own gender. Males reported a greater interest in the majority of the STEM careers, which were subsequently believed by the students to be culturally stereotyped as masculine, providing evidence that knowledge of cultural stereotypes may affect females’ interest in the STEM fields.