CSC News

September 13, 2006

Vouk on Research Team to Study Markers of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Success

Dr. Mladen Vouk, head of the department of computer science at NC State University, is a co-PI involved a major research initiative which has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) of $511,512 for a research proposal titled “Markers of STEM Success (MOSS): An Eleven-Year Longitudinal Study of High Achieving Young Women's Interests, Experiences, and Preparation For STEM Careers. 
Joining Vouk on this multi-disciplinary research initiative are PI, Dr. Sarah Berenson (Math & Science), and co-PIs Drs. Joan Michael (Psychology), Roger Woodard (Statistics), and Sue Bracken (Adult & Higher Education).
The award will run from October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2009.
Research Abstract - Over the past seven years, we have collected data on 250 high achieving young women, ages 11-20 for an intervention project and an ITWF project. High achieving is defined as those girls selected/electing to take Algebra 1 in middle grades, putting them on track to take calculus in high school. The proposed research provides an opportunity to extend and redirect the current database for a new study of STEM career choice. By 2009 we expect to have 100 longitudinal records to inform post-undergraduate analysis, 200 longitudinal records to inform the undergraduate analysis, and 300 longitudinal records to inform the high school analysis.
The research questions related to the STEM Career Choice Model are:
  1. How do interests in STEM careers affect high achieving young women’s experiences and educational preparation over time?
  2. How do experiences, over time, affect high achieving young women’s interests and educational preparation?
  3. How does the educational preparation of high achieving young women, over time, affect their interests and experiences?
  4. What are the critical events within high achieving young women’s experience, interest, and education that affect STEM career decisions?
We propose to test the model to understand how these factors interact with one another, over time, in an iterative, recursive, non-linear fashion. Coupled with the identification of critical events, this study will provide greater insight into women’s STEM career choices.
Our findings will more fully define the factors of the model and how these factors interact to achieve the National Science Foundation’s goal of increasing the participation of women in STEM careers. The findings will enable us to map individual career trajectories that are taken by high achieving young women from middle grades into gradate school or their careers. We conjecture that there are identifiable critical events that occur over time that attract and retain high achieving young women to STEM careers. This beginning pipeline approach collects data annually at regular intervals, and the data are easily recalled and retrieved by the subjects as they remain in or leak from the pipeline. This approach of working toward a STEM career is somewhat different and more accurate than working back from the end of the pipeline asking a STEM college major or graduate student to recall their personal histories from middle school or high school.
To our knowledge, there are very few, if any, longitudinal studies of high achieving young women from middle grades into graduate school or first careers. The new data has the potential to better understand and conceptualize STEM career choice in terms of critical events within the factors of interest, experience, and education for high achieving women from ages 11-24. The broader impact will emerge from the identification of the nature, timing, frequency, and form of these critical events. With this knowledge timely and motivating environments and educational experiences can be developed in a cost-effective manner leading to increased interest among young women in STEM careers.

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