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Pre-college STEM learning experiences and their effect on undergraduates' STEM self-efficacy, outcomes, interests, and goals: A mixed methods study

Gossen, Drew
The experiences students have in their early life and in school have an impact on the development of their future career interests and choices, and understanding the influence of those experiences can provide educators and policymakers the necessary tools to meet society's future needs. This mixed-methods study examined how undergraduates at one large university perceived their pre-college learning experiences and how those experiences affected their self-efficacy, outcome expectations, interests, and goals in STEM. Participants were surveyed about their experiences and attitudes, and eight participants with a range of STEM self-efficacies were interviewed about the specifics of their experiences. Results indicated that many students participated in learning experiences that were easy to implement and required few resources, while those experiences that required substantial knowledge or outside resources occurred less often. These less common experiences, which often centered on STEM careers or future studies in STEM, were more common among students who are majoring in a STEM degree. Other factors influencing STEM attitudes included course performance, course selection, teachers, and out-of-school opportunities. The out-of-school experiences were selected less often and were generally targeted experiences that related to individuals' interests. These findings suggested the need for schools and teachers to engage in more complex and career-focused activities in STEM classes to enhance the development of interests in all students. There is also a need to provide opportunities for students to be involved in out-of-school STEM activities that relate to the students' interest or draw them into STEM fields of study.