Little research has been done to examine the impact of informal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning on middle school students’ career aspirations. Participants included 507 incoming fifth through eighth graders from underrepresented populations in STEM fields, which were recruited at three sites. Data collected included semi-structured interviews, session reflection forms, and surveys administered before and at the end of the STEM summer learning experience. Social Cognitive Career Theory was used to examine the extent middle school students’ experiences at a STEM summer learning experience influenced their interest in STEM careers. Quantitative data were examined related to self-efficacy. Self-efficacy scores after the STEM learning experience were significantly higher than initial self-efficacy scores and justified further qualitative analyses. A deductive approach was used to analyze the qualitative data. The themes of role models, influence of the STEM summer learning experience, applicability of STEM, and empathy were revealed. Many students reported they were drawn to a specific STEM career because they wanted to help a person for whom they care about, such as a sibling with an illness or a family member battling cancer. This study demonstrates the need to provide all students the access and opportunity to engage in authentic, hands-on learning experiences that connect STEM to their daily lives, increase their interest in STEM, and introduce them to different STEM careers so they make more informed decisions about future STEM career choices and suggests that the role empathy plays in fostering students’ interest in STEM be further examined.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Bahar, A. K., & Adiguzel, T. (2016). Analysis of factors influencing interest in STEM career: Comparison between American and Turkish students with high ability. Journal of STEM Education, 17(3), 64–69.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Bandura, A. (1990). Perceived self-efficacy in the exercise of personal agency. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2(2), 128–163.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Freeman.
Bandura, A., & Wessels, S. (1997). Self-efficacy (pp. 4–6). New York: W.H. Freeman & Company.
Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (2001). Self-efficacy beliefs as shapers of children’s aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development, 72(1), 187–206.
Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497–529.
Beier, M. E., & Rittmayer, A. D. (2008). Literature overview: Motivational factors in STEM: Interest and self-concept. https://www.engr.psu.edu/awe/misc/ARPs/ARP_SelfConcept_Overview_122208.pdf.
Brown, G. (1996). Quality of life: Changing youth culture and values. Values for Tomorrow’s Society Conference: Aston University.
Brown, D. (2002). Career choice and development. John Wiley & Sons.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. (2017, July). 8.8 Million science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs in May 2016. TED: The Economics Daily. https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2017/8-point-8-million-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-jobs-in-may-2016.htm
Bush, S. B., Cox, R., & Cook, K. L. (2016). Building a prosthetic hand: Math matters. Teaching Children Mathematics, 23(2), 110–114.
Bush, S. B., & Cook, K. L. (2019). Step into STEAM: Your standards-based action plan for deepening mathematics and science learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin and Reston, VA: NCTM
Bush, S. B., Cook, K. L., Edelen, D., & Cox, R. (under review). Elementary Students’ STEAM Perceptions: Extending Frames of Reference Through Transformative Learning Experiences
Cohen, J. (2001). Caring classrooms/ intelligent schools: The social emotional education of young children. Teachers College Press.
Cook, K., Bush, S. B., & Cox, R. (2015). Engineering encounters: Creating a prosthetic hand. Science and Children, 53(4), 65–71.
Cooper, B. (2011). Empathy in education: Engagement, values, and achievement. Continuum International Publishing Group.
Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (4th ed.). Sage Publications.
Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process. Sage.
Cumming, G. (2013). Understanding the new statistics: Effect sizes, confidence intervals, and meta-analysis. Routledge.
Dabney, K. P., Johnson, T. N., Sonnert, G., & Sadler, P. M. (2017). STEM career interest in women and informal science. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 23(3).
Dayton, E. (2013). Factors that influence females’ pursuit of STEM fields: A literature review emphasizing psychological influences. http://sierraschoolworks.com/section/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/FACTORS-THAT-INFLUENCE-FEMALES’-PURSUIT-OF-STEM-FIELDS-E.-Dayton-for-Sierra-College-STEM.pdf.
Delamont, S. (1992). Fieldwork in educational settings: Methods, pitfalls and perspectives. Falmer.
Durbin, S. (2013). It’s a boy’s thing really, isn’t it? The factors affecting career choices amongst male and female engineers. http://www2.uwe.ac.uk/faculties/BBS/BUS/Research/CESR/Jan_2013_Durbin.pdf.
Edelen, D., Simpson, H., & Bush, S. B. (2020). A STEAM exploration of tiny homes. Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12, 113(1), 25–32.
Edelen, D., Bush, S. B., Simpson, H., Cook, K. L., Abassian, A. (in-press). Moving towards shared realities through empathy in mathematical modeling: An ecological systems theory approach. School Science and Mathematics.
Halim, L., Rahman, N. A., Ramli, N. A., & Ellany, L. (2018). Influence of students’ STEM self-efficacy in STEM and physics career choice. AIP Conference Proceedings. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.5019490.
Harwell, E. (2012). An analysis of parent occupation and student choices in STEM major. Project STEP-UP. http://stepup.education.illinois.edu/sites/default/files/EH%20Parent%20Occ%20Brief.pdf.
IBM Corp. (2017). IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, version 25.0. IBM Corp.
Ing, M. (2014). Can parents influence children’s mathematics achievement and persistence in STEM careers? Journal of Career Development, 41(2), 87–103.
Jacobs, J. A., Ahmad, S., & Sax, L. J. (2017). Planning a career in engineering: Parental effects on sons and daughters. Social Sciences, 6(2), 2–25.
Jahn, J. L., & Myers, K. K. (2014). Vocational anticipatory socialization of adolescents: Messages, sources, and frameworks that influence interest in STEM careers. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 42(1), 85–106.
James, L., Demaree, R., & Wolf, G. (1993). Rwg: An assessment of within-group interrater agreement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 306–309.
Kelley, T. R., & Knowles, J. G. (2016). A conceptual framework for integrated STEM education. International Journal of STEM Education, 3(1), 1–11.
Kitchen, J. A., Sonnert, G., & Sadler, P. M. (2018). The impact of college- and university-run high school summer program on students’ end of high school STEM career aspirations. Science Education, 102(3), 529–547.
Lead States, N. G. S. S. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. The National Academies Press.
Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance [monograph]. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1), 79–122.
Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2002). Social cognitive career theory. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career choice and development (4th ed., pp. 255–3 11). Wiley.
Lincoln, E., & Guba, I. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Sage.
Lloyd, A., Gore, J., Holmes, K., Smith, M., & Fray, L. (2018). Parental influences on those seeking a career in STEM: The primacy of gender. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 10(2), 308–328.
Maddux, J. E. (2016). Self-efficacy. In Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Expectancies (pp. 55–60). Routledge.
Mcgee, E., & and Bentley, L. (2017). The equity ethic: Black and latinx college students reengineering their stem careers toward justice. American Journal of Education, 124, 1–36.
Melchior, A., Burack, C., & Hoover, M. (2018). The impact of after-school robotics programs on STEM interests. https://conference.iste.org/uploads/ISTE2018/HANDOUTS/KEY_110836005/ISTE_RP.ImpactsofAfterSchoolRoboticsProgramsonSTEMInterests.5_30_18.pdf.
Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (revised and expanded from qualitative research and case study application in education). Jossey-Bass.
Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). Sage.
Miller, K., Sonnert, G., & Sadler, P. (2018). The influence of students’ participation in STEM competitions on their interest in STEM careers. International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 8(2), 95–114.
Mitchell, P. T. (2016). Undergraduate motivations for choosing a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) major (Senior thesis). https://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=2939&context=utk_chanhonoproj.
Mohr-Schroeder, M. J., Jackson, C., Miller, M., Walcott, B., Little, D. L., Speler, L., Schooler, W., & Schroeder, D. C. (2014). Developing middle school students’ interests in STEM via summer learning experiences: see Blue STEM camp. School Science and Mathematics, 114(6), 291–301.
Mohr-Schroeder, M. (2015). Track 3 panel session: national models for broadening participation. Invited panelist speaker at the 24th National EPSCor National Conference, Portsmouth, NH.
Mohr-Schroeder, M., Bush, S. B., & Jackson, C. (2018). K12 STEM education: Why does it matter and where are we now? Teachers College Record. ID Number: 22288.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of chief State School Officers. (2010). Common core state standards for mathematics.
National Science Board. (2016). Science and engineering indicators 2016 (Report No.NSB- 2016-1). National Science Foundation.
National Science Foundation. (2017). Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering. https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2017/nsf17310/static/downloads/nsf17310-digest.pdf
Nugent, G., Barker, B., Welch, G., Grandgenett, N., Wu, C., & Nelson, C. (2015). A model of factors contributing to STEM learning and career orientation. International Journal of Science Education, 37(7), 1067–1088.
Patterson, D. G. (2011). Student awareness and career motivation in the STEM fields. Northwest Association for Biomedical Research. http://www.cssia.org/pdf/20000096-StudentAwarenessandCareerMotivationintheSTEMFields.pdf
Ray, T. M. (2016). A preliminary study investigating the factors influencing STEM major selection by African American females (Doctoral dissertation). https://digitalcommons.odu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=efl_etds
Roberts, T., Jackson, C., Mohr-Schroeder, M., Bush, S., Maiorca, C., Cavalcanti, M., Schroeder, C., Delaney, A., Putnam, L., & Cremeans, C. (2018). Students’ perceptions of STEM learning after participating in a summer informal learning experience. International Journal of STEM Education.
Rogers, C. R. (1975). Empathetic: An underappreciated way of being. The Counselling Phycologist, 5(2), 2–9.
Saldaña, J. (2016). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (3rd ed.). Sage Publications.
Schwartz, S. J., Côté, J. E., & Arnett, J. J. (2005). Identity and agency in emerging adulthood: Two developmental routes in the individualization process. Youth & Society, 37(2), 201–229.
Sellami, A., Kimmel, L., Hunscher, B., Cotter, A., Wittrock, J., Al-Emadi, A., & Al-Emadi, D. (2017). Factors shaping Qatari students’ interest in STEM, business or public sector careers. Journal of Mathematics Science and Technology Education, 13(10), 6491–6505.
Sun, K. (2017). The importance of cultivating empathy in STEM education. Science Scope, 40(8), 6–8.
Trusty, J., Niles, S. G., & Carney, J. V. (2005). Education-career planning and middle school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 9(2).
Tuijl, C. V., & Molen, W. V. (2016). Study choice and career development in STEM fields: An overview and integration of the research. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 26(2), 159–183.
Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experiences. State University of New York Press.
Wang, M. T., & Degol, J. (2013). Motivational pathways to STEM career choices: Using expectancy-value perspective to understand individual and gender differences in STEM fields. Developmental Review, 33(4), 1–48.
Wyss, V. L., Heulskamp, D., & Siebert, C. J. (2012). Increasing middle school student interest in STEM careers with videos of scientists. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 7(4), 501–522.
About this article
Cite this article
Maiorca, C., Roberts, T., Jackson, C. et al. Informal Learning Environments and Impact on Interest in STEM Careers. Int J of Sci and Math Educ 19, 45–64 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-019-10038-9
- Empathy in STEM
- Informal learning
- STEM education
- Student interest in STEM careers