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The research conducted by Project STEP-UP, uses a mixed methods approach to obtain various perspectives of women and minorities in STEM fields, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative inquiry methods.
The first component of the mixed method utilizes longitudinal data of undergraduate students who enrolled in eight universities in Fall 1999. The 1999 cohort data is being used to explore the enrollments and persistence of students in the STEM fields at large, public research universities. The data includes information on socio-demographics, majors, financial aid, and educational outcomes, for up to six academic years.
The second component of Project STEP-UP collects new qualitative data through interviews conducted with STEM intervention program administrators and directors at ten large, public, research universities. Analysis of this data aims to allow for a better understanding of how STEM intervention programs are designed, how they operate, and why these programs are successful. Questions include how STEM intervention programs are developed, what services they provide, how they are supported, and their impact on the students they seek to serve.
The third component of the project gathers new quantitative data by surveying current undergraduate students at ten large, public, research universities. The survey includes questions about students’ experience in the STEM fields, including pre-undergraduate and undergraduate factors that impacted their decision to enter the STEM fields. Special attention is given to the process by which the student initially declared their major, their decision to remain in or leave their initial major, and their involvement in any programs that may have influenced their choice of major.
With the receipt of a supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation, Project STEP-UP will expand each component described above with the inclusion of six additional universities. The supplemental grant activities will be led by researchers at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. Data collection efforts at the six institutions began in 2011 and will continue through 2012. This expansion of the project is expected to increase the overall number of observations, as well as the number of underrepresented students in the STEM fields, allowing for more robust analysis. For the qualitative component of the project, conducting interviews at six additional campuses is expected to provide further information and evidence on the contextual factors that impact the design, staffing, funding, and implementation of postsecondary recruitment and retention programs in STEM. Likewise, surveying undergraduate students from the additional campuses will also shed further light on the importance of contextual factors in shaping STEM participation and outcomes.
Collectively these data will allow the researchers to identify factors that influence undergraduate students to enter, persist in, or switch out of STEM majors, with special attention to given to understanding the representation of women, minorities, and low-income students in STEM fields.