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Developing YOUth! Project

Measuring the long-term impact of a STEM-based out-of-school time program

Gender and STEM Career Interest

New findings show diminishing differences in STEM career interest.

Posted by Aaron Price on May 21, 2021

Dr. Angie Skeeles-Worley has been a part of the Developing YOUth! Project since the start. A former high-school biology and ecology teacher, she began working on the project as a graduate student at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. Her advisor was Dr. Robert Tai, a founding Co-PI on this project. She has had input in every stage of the project from design of surveys, data collection, analysis of both survey and interview data, and much more. She has been, and is still, a key partner and no one knows the data better than she does.

She recently defended her dissertation, which analyzed the career interests of study participants over time. She is working on publications of the major findings. But I wanted to point out a particularly interesting result. The figure below includes data from participants' first survey - the one taken after they graduate high school but before they start college. It is divided by gender* and also treatment (Science Minors and Achievers alumni) and a control group.

Look at the top row, which shows STEM career interest of those who identify as male and female in the comparison group. The distribution of STEM career interest is quite different. For example, female participants report much more interest in health-related careers. This is a common result among research studies about pre-college career interest.

Now look at the bottom row, which shows interest of those in our treatment group. These are participants who were in our Science Minors and Achievers program during high school. Notice the distribution of career interest between female and male participants is very similar. Because the two groups were not randomly selected, we cannot say for sure that the difference is solely due to participation in the program. However, we feel it is likely that our program had a major impact on how its participants view STEM careers. In particular, female participants were more likely to be interested in a broader range of STEM careers. This can be an important result to help advance our thought on how to increase female participation in all STEM fields, not just health.

You may recall a few years ago we published an article that showed female participants in our program entered the program with STEM career interest lower than the male participants, but left the program with same levels of interest. This result supports that finding and advances it by giving us more detail about where that interest is changing. Our program is not focused on STEM careers as its primary goal, but exposing participants to a wider variety of possible STEM careers is a component of the program. We'll keep you updated as Angie and the team works on formal publications describing this result.

*We recognize that gender is not a binary construct. We ask the question using an open-ended "What is your gender?" item format. We received nonbinary responses, but they were <1% of the population and thus not a large enough sample size to do analysis with at this time.