- Year 2019
- NSF Award #1660721
- Registration Current Noyce Scholar
- First Name Hannah
- Last Name Brewer
- Discipline Biology
- Institution Morehead State Univeristy
Graduates from science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM) majors are essential for a large number of professions and for a strong economy. The process of selecting and changing any major, including STEM, is a deeply personal process that is influenced by family, friends, mentors, and discipline related experiences. Prior research suggested that more than half of the entering college freshmen who declare STEM majors switch out of them, especially in quantitative disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering. This is described in the literature as STEM attrition. Many factors have been statistically associated with STEM attrition, including gender, race, high school preparation, faculty interactions, depth and pacing of college science courses, math ability, and others. This IRB-approved study has four research questions: (a) What factors contributed to the participants’ decision to select their original major? (b) What key events participants experienced in their original major? (c) What factors contributed to the participants’ decision to switch? and (d) To what extent are students satisfied with their decision to switch out? The study used a case study approach and mixed-methods methodologies, including a demographic survey by participants and a control group (graduating seniors in Q-STEM majors) and semi-structured interviews. Sampling was based on convenience, and consisted of 11 college students attending Morehead State University. Survey data was summarized using descriptive statistics and interview data was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using standard qualitative techniques to identify broad themes and rich, thick descriptions of STEM switching occurrences and the rationale behind them. Preliminary results uncovered strong emotions that were part of the participants’ decision-making process. Lack of knowledge about potential careers in STEM and perceived incompatibilities between socio-interpersonal relationships and STEM careers also drove participants into non-STEM majors.