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Does Teaching Matter? Factors that Influence High School Students’ Decisions on Whether to Pursue College STEM Majors

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.443.1 - 24.443.18



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Paper Authors


Gary Lichtenstein Quality Evaluation Designs

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Gary Lichtenstein, Ed.D., is principal of Quality Evaluation Designs, a firm specializing in research and evaluation for K-12 schools, universities, and government and non-profit organizations nationwide. He has researched STEM pathways of K-12 students, undergraduates, and early career professionals. For correspondence about this paper, email:,

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Martin L. Tombari University of Texas, Austin

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Marty Tombari is a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas-Austin. He teaches basic statistics courses to undergraduates and measurement courses to graduate students in the Master's and Doctoral Programs.

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Sheri D. Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2003 Dr. Sheppard was named co-principal investigator on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to form the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), along with faculty at the University of Washington, Colorado School of Mines, and Howard University. More recently (2011) she was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and is currently the Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Kaye Storm Stanford University

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Kaye Storm joined Stanford University as the Director of the Office of Science Outreach in January 2008. She has campus-wide responsibility for assisting faculty to develop their Broader Impacts ideas and activities.

Prior to 2008, she was the founding Executive Director and later the Director of Special Projects at Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education (IISME), an educational nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Marketing Manager for the University College London, linking faculty scientists and engineers with British industry. She also created engineering graduate fellowship and Japan research fellowship programs for the American Electronics Association, a large U.S. trade association of technology companies. Her first career was as a high school teacher in Santa Clara, California and she also helped establish the Girls’ Middle School in Palo Alto, California. She serves on the Advisory Council of the University of Missouri Broader Impacts Network and is co-chair of the IISME Board of Directors.

She earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master’s degree in Education from Stanford University.

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Does Teaching Matter? Factors that Influence High School Students’ Decisions Whether to Pursue College STEM MajorsThis paper summarizes a three-year evaluation of a university-based Research Experience forTeachers (RET) program that explored a core assumption underlying RET programs nationwide;namely, that exposing K-12 teachers to enriching, STEM-related, professional developmentexperiences results in more K-12 students pursuing STEM majors and careers. While the belief iswidely held, scant evidence exists testing this assumption. Nor is it clear, if the assumption istrue, what the means are by which teachers’ summer research experiences translate intoincreased student interest and participation in STEM.The evaluation included results from a Teacher Survey and a Student Survey. Results from anonline survey to 210 K-12 teachers participating in professional development summer programsacross two years showed that teachers perceive that student factors (e.g., natural aptitude,family influence, scores on standardized tests) influence students’ decisions to study STEMsignificantly more than do teacher factors related to instruction and advising.An online survey was administered to high school students from mid-March through May,2012, distributed through various teacher networks nationwide. The Student Survey iscomprised of 8 scales reflecting factors that influence students’ choice of a college major,including Middle (MSI) and High School (HSI) Instructional Strategies; Students’ PerceivedAptitude for, Motivation for, and Attitudes towards the Major; Influences of Family andFriends; Concerns About Studying a Particular Major; and Out-of-School Participation inActivities Related to the Major. Scales were comprised of 3-8 items each, with reliabilities thatranged from Cronbach =.60 to =.92. A total of 519 high school seniors responded whoreported planning to attend college within a year and who identified an intended major.Logistic regression was used to explore effects of the eight factors on students’ decisions.First, we looked for factors that influence students’ intentions to study STEM vs. non-STEMmajors. High School Instruction (HSI) involving hands on activities or projects and We readbooks, watched movies, or studied current events related to my major were found to besignificant influencers of students choosing STEM. Students choosing STEM also expressedConcerns about free time in college significantly more than those pursuing non-STEM majors.Second, we explored differences between those intending to study engineering and thoseconsidering other (non-engineering) STM majors. HSI, Middle School Instruction (MSI), andConcerns (p<.01.) According to these results, students report that instruction influences their choice of majormore than teachers believe it does. These studies provide evidence that teacher and studentengagement in authentic STEM experiences influences students’ choices regarding whether tostudy STEM in college. The study provides potentially exciting, practical implications for K-12and higher education STEM education.

Lichtenstein, G., & Tombari, M. L., & Sheppard, S. D., & Storm, K. (2014, June), Does Teaching Matter? Factors that Influence High School Students’ Decisions on Whether to Pursue College STEM Majors Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20334

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