Research in Higher Education

, Volume 55, Issue 8, pp 810-832

First online:

Breaking it Down: Engineering Student STEM Confidence at the Intersection of Race/Ethnicity and Gender

  • Elizabeth LitzlerAffiliated withUniversity of Washington Email author 
  • , Cate C. SamuelsonAffiliated withUniversity of Washington
  • , Julie A. LorahAffiliated withUniversity of Washington

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It is generally accepted that engineering requires a strong aptitude for mathematics and science; therefore, students’ judgments regarding their competence in these areas as well as engineering likely influence their confidence in engineering. Little is known about how self-confidence in science, mathematics, and engineering courses (STEM confidence) varies at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender. To fill this gap, this study examined the STEM confidence of multiple groups in undergraduate engineering programs. Results indicated that although some underrepresented groups may have lower STEM confidence overall, this finding no longer applies to all groups after controlling for personal, environmental, and behavioral factors. Specifically, African-American and Hispanic men report higher average STEM confidence than White men after controlling for these associated measures. In addition, White women continue to report lower average STEM confidence than White men after controlling for these measures, while other groups do not differ from White men. Further, many elements of student perception, including student views of professors, comparisons to peers, perceptions of the field as rewarding, and desirability of chosen major are positively associated with student STEM confidence. The changing patterns of significance for race/ethnicity and gender groups between the two models indicate that personal, environmental, and behavioral factors have different relationships with STEM confidence levels for different groups. This study contributes an understanding that gender differences in STEM confidence are not indifferent to racial and ethnic context. Social-cognitive theory provides a valuable framework for studying student academic confidence and would improve future self-confidence research.


Engineering students Self-confidence STEM confidence Intersectionality Race/ethnicity Gender