Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Impact of a Sophomore Seminar on the Desire of STEM Majors to Pursue a Science Career

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Impact of a Sophomore Seminar on the Desire of STEM Majors to Pursue a Science Career

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study focuses on the impact of a sophomore seminar on STEM majors' desire to pursue a science career. This seminar was a component in a broader scholarship program and focused on helping students gain a more in-depth understanding of the process of science, exposing students to a range of career options, and providing opportunities for outside of class student-faculty/scientist interactions. Interviews and reflection papers by the fifteen students who completed the seminar suggest that the most common benefits from the course involved development and refinement of career decisions, fomenting of self confidence and empowerment, and awareness of available resources to assist in the pursuit of a STEM career. The students very clearly indicated the importance and impact of a wide range of informal interactions between themselves and/ or faculty or other scientists, helping the students put a personal face on those who have previously pursued a science career. Additionally, the exposure to these scientists and their stories, along with a more complete discussion about the process of science (including funding, dissemination and ethics), spurred three of fifteen students to favorably reconsider the possibility of research as a career option.

Background

Since the late 1980s, national reports have called for reform in undergraduate science, mathematics, and technology education (AAAS, 1990; NRC, 1997, 1999; NSF, 1996; Project Kaleidoscope, 1991). These calls for reform have captured the attention of many university faculty who recognize the need to rethink the student experience, especially in the early years, to attempt to keep student interest in the sciences (Ebert-May, 1997). One of the reasons behind the need for change comes from the loss of students. Seymour and Hewett (1997) reported that 40-60% of undergraduates from a representative sample of universities leave the fields of science and engineering. This loss of talent and creativity not only occurred among the most highly qualified college entrants (Bhattacharjee, 2009) but also was disproportionately high among women and students of color.

In order for students to pursue science careers, they must connect with their intended field. Astin reports a wide range of ways students connect to a college or university (Astin, 1984, 1993), and many of the same ideas could be expected to be true for why students complete certain majors. Specifically within the sciences, research has suggested that connecting undergraduates with authentic research experiences helps maintain interest in the pursuit of a science major (Russell, Hancock, & Mc- Cullough, 2007; Seymour, Hunter, Laursen, & Deantoni, 2004). Providing all introductory students with real undergraduate research experiences early in their careers has been a challenge, but there are examples of success at large institutions for larger enrollment classes (Full, 2010; Luckie, Krha, Loznak, & Maleszewski, 2004; Weaver et al., 2006). However, there are other potential mechanisms for helping students find the connection to the sciences that will inspire them to pursue a career in the sciences. Many educators have viewed seminar courses as a possible solution in order to deeply connect students with and within the sciences (AAUW, 1994; Gilmer, 2007; Jesse, 2006; Kulis, Sicotte, & Collins, 2002; Pell, 1996; Preston, 2004; Xu, 2008). These projects often focused on success variables, including retention in the sciences, grades, and degree completion, rather than the underlying student experience. The smaller nature of seminar courses typically lead to increased opportunities for out-of-class student-faculty interaction, something that has been found to greatly impact undergraduate students (Strong, 2009), or to help students better understand the connections between science and society (Goldey, 2008; King, 2008).

Even for students entering college with a plan to pursue a non-medical science career, there is still another major challenge: the dominance of interest in health careers. …

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