Skip to main content

“I’ve Always Loved Science”: a Qualitative Exploration of Rural College Students’ STEM Interest Development and Maintenance


Despite its increasing importance in today’s society, STEM learning opportunities in rural areas are limited. Factors such as limited learning resources and experiences may negatively impact students in rural areas in developing interest for STEM subjects, and eventually STEM careers. In this qualitative study, our purpose was to understand how STEM interest develops and how this interest is maintained for rural college students in STEM majors. Supporting the core of the interest development framework by Hidi and Renniger (Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 111–127, 2006), we found out that there were internal and external factors that impacted both the spark and development of STEM interest. Students mentioned the importance of family and school-related factors, as well as environmental factors as triggers of interest. Development of the initial interest was established through sustained cognitive and emotional activities which were also supported by external and internal factors. STEM interest was then maintained during college through elements within the college context and personal factors. Since rural students’ STEM interest is developed and maintained through both internal and external factors, we argue that schools and colleges should provide STEM learning opportunities to assist with these processes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Data Availability

The data is available through the researchers following IRB protocols.

Code Availability

Not applicable.


Download references


This study was funded by an internal grant at Georgia Southern University through the National Youth Advocacy and Resilience (NYAR) group in the amount of $10,000.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



Elise J. Cain, Mete Akcaoglu, Kristen Wright, Alexandria Dobson, and Taylor Elkins analyzed these data and wrote varying sections of this article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Elise J. Cain.

Ethics declarations

Ethics Approval

This project was IRB approved at Georgia Southern University (#: H20241).

Consent to Participate

All participants signed a consent form to participate in interviews.

Consent for Publication

This article has not been previously published. All text and images can be published and are not copyrighted.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cain, E.J., Akcaoglu, M., Wright, K. et al. “I’ve Always Loved Science”: a Qualitative Exploration of Rural College Students’ STEM Interest Development and Maintenance. Journal for STEM Educ Res (2022).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • STEM education
  • Interest development
  • Rural students
  • Qualitative research