The Influence of Early STEM Career Exploration as Related to Motivation and Self-determination Theory
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A science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) summer intervention program is the setting for a career-exploration research study with over 30 adolescent students in a low-income community. Using motivation and self-determination theory as a framework, the impact of early exposure to engineering and mathematics career opportunities is examined. In the larger study we utilized mixed methods to analyze how changes in middle school students’ affective characteristics may be linked to their future career decision-making after participating in an integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics academic/ career summer camp. Using a case study methodology, we examine three of the students in detail regarding their changes in self-reported future academic major choices and career goals utilizing measures of motivation, self-efficacy, and self-determination. Interview data provides qualitative evidence that participants’ experiences during camp may indeed impact their short-term outlook towards their informed decision making and motivation related to pursuing STEM careers. Repeat participants (two or more years) are highlighted as case studies and their survey and interview input is analyzed to determine to what extent, if any, students attribute changes in motivation to their summer camp experiences. Select comments that might reveal insights related to the participants’ ethnicity and/or gender are presented, given that the student participants represent a majority demographic of low income and historically underrepresented populations in STEM.