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Key Factors Related To High School Girls’ Interest And Aspirations In Engineering, Science, And Math

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Focus on High School Girls in Engineering

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.827.1 - 13.827.20



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Paper Authors

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Michelle Porche Wellesley Center for Women

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Jennifer Grossman Wellesley Center for Women

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Anne Noonan Salem State College

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Peter Wong Tufts University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Key Factors Related to High School Girls’ Interest and Aspirations in Engineering, Science, and Math Abstract

We present initial findings from an ongoing study taking place in 5 schools in a large urban district in the Northeast. For this investigation, we limited our analytic sample to the 549 female participants from whom we collected survey data in order to examine correlates of girls’ interest in pursuing college coursework in engineering, science, and mathematics. Using a social- ecological framework, we found differing patterns of associations using engagement, capacity, and continuity variables (as suggested by Jolly et al.’s trilogy model) for the three domains. Engineering interests and aspirations were related to school characteristics, science and math self-efficacy, and experience with extracurricular activities. Interest and aspirations for science were correlated with science salience and support from science teachers, while interest and aspirations for mathematics study was associated with math self-efficacy, math salience, and support from math teachers. Gender ideology also played a role, but in the opposite direction expected.

To shed additional light on these findings, we analyzed data from Key Informant interviews conducted with several local and national STEM leaders. Themes from the Key Informant interviews included attention to extracurricular activities (infrastructural issues, socioeconomic support, the need to support adults in their work with urban youth, specific challenges associated with after-school STEM opportunities) and messages to girls regarding STEM involvement (gender-specific messages that can discourage or encourage girls, presentation of STEM opportunities that appeal to girls and speak to their interests). Implications for teaching and practice are discussed.


Even as girls’ and women’s participation in some areas of science has risen considerably in the past few years, the field of engineering has changed very little with rates of female engineering majors estimated at between 18 and 20% 1. Research on the patterns of girls’ progression in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline is well established 2, documenting attrition which begins in middle school and continues through graduate school. On the other hand, women who do enter into college science and engineering programs tend to be successful 3. Thus it is critical to investigate factors that foster girls’ interest and lead to increased participation and retention in STEM generally, and engineering in particular.

Significance and contribution of the current study

This paper describes an analysis of data collected as part of the Success in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (SISTEM) research study. The SISTEM study seeks to build upon Jolly et al.’s 4 trilogy model, which delineates engagement (e.g., interest in STEM), capacity (e.g., knowledge and skills), and continuity (e.g., resources and opportunities) as inter-

Porche, M., & Grossman, J., & Noonan, A., & Wong, P. (2008, June), Key Factors Related To High School Girls’ Interest And Aspirations In Engineering, Science, And Math Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4050

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