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The Role of All-Female STEM Spaces in Encouraging High School Girls to Pursue STEM (Fundamental, Diversity)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Mariel Kolker Morris School District

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Dr. Mariel Kolker is a second-career teacher of high school physics, engineering and nanoscience. She earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rutgers University, and her MBA in Finance from Fordham's Gabelli Graduate School of Business, and worked for a decade in the Power Generation, Transmission & Distribution Industry before entering teaching in 2000. She earned her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in STEM from UMass Lowell. Her interests are in STEM identity development in K12 students, pre-service and professional development that promotes equity in engineering, and action research in the classroom.

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The numbers of women in science, engineering, computer science and mathematics professions continue to be low despite decades of interventional efforts. Much research has focused on interventions at the middle school level or retention at the university level. Yet some research suggests it is girls’ identification with a science or STEM domain during the pre-college years that is one of the strongest predictors of intent to pursue or persist in a STEM major in college. This exploratory case study examined the lived experiences of eight high school girls who exhibited strong STEM identities. This work reports on the role that all-female STEM spaces influenced participants’ intent to pursue STEM majors in college. Eight junior and senior girls were interviewed over the course of an eight week period during fall 2019 regarding their perceived feelings of self-efficacy, their feelings of recognition in STEM, and their interest in STEM domains. This qualitative research was framed using Godwin’s 2016 Engineering Identity Framework, adapting it to accommodate a broader STEM Identity and replacing Godwin’s performance/competence belief construct with the well-defined construct of self-efficacy. Domain-specific identity is “being recognized as a ‘certain kind of person’ in a given context” and is only one part of one’s overall identity. The STEM Identity Framework was defined as a combination of self-efficacy beliefs and feelings of recognition and interest in STEM. Research indicates that domain-specific identity is a predictor of recruitment and retention of students to those fields. This research suggests that all-girls spaces such as extracurricular STEM clubs for girls reinforce recognition and bolster self-efficacy in high school girls. Girls developed feelings of belonging in STEM which, research shows, lead to motivation, engagement, increased academic performance and increased intent to persevere in STEM fields. Further, girls’ experiences in girls’ STEM clubs allowed them to feel a degree of immunity to the negative effects of gender bias. The implications of this study lead to practical recommendations for high school teachers, administrators and pre-service teacher education programs. Schools committed to closing the gender gap in STEM fields are recommended to develop all-girl classes or clubs, such as Girls in STEM or Girls Who Code, that promote a sense of belonging and validate their feelings of competence and recognition in STEM domains. There are implications for underrepresented minorities in STEM as well, with further research needed on the impact of clubs on self recognition of Latinx or Black students in STEM.

Kolker, M. (2021, July), The Role of All-Female STEM Spaces in Encouraging High School Girls to Pursue STEM (Fundamental, Diversity) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37890

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