Knowledge-based industries are becoming increasingly important to Florida’s job market and economy, creating a higher need for workers with strong skill sets in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.
While progress toward increasing STEM skill sets is being made in Florida’s education system, many students in grades K-12 still perform below their grade level in math and science, and less students in Florida are enrolled in upper-level math and science classes than other states.
STEMflorida’s goal is to change these statistics in order to create a viable workforce for jobs requiring STEM skills. In order to do this, it is important to understand the motivations behind students who have chosen to pursue STEM fields by selecting STEM-related majors and searching for jobs in these industries.
Alpha PRoductions worked with STEMflorida to research students’ decision-making processes to understand what encouraged students to choose STEM careers.
Alpha PRoductions’ goal was to understand what encouraged students to choose STEM-related majors, what motivated them to continue with the program and what helped make the programs work for them. In addition, the team examined the kinds of messages that resonate with the people connected to STEM fields to identify the messages undergraduate students would give to high school and middle school students about STEM-related industries today.
The Alpha PRoductions team had three objectives:
- To conduct focus groups and in-depth interviews among 50 STEM students by June 12, 2010, in order to extract qualitative data about their motivations for pursuing STEM industries.
- To conduct surveys among 300 STEM students by July 23, 2010, in order to extract quantitative data about their motivations for pursuing STEM industries.
- To understand the decision-making process of 350 Florida students in pursuing STEM industries by July 23, 2010.
Strategies and Tactics
To achieve these objectives, the Alpha PRoductions team reached out to networks, including student organizations, honor societies and undergraduate programs, to motivate them to participate in research. The team also contacted STEM academic programs and colleges in order to reach less active STEM students, who may offer a different perspective on their selection process.
The team then conducted focus groups, in-depth interviews and an online survey to learn more about the decision-making process of students choosing STEM careers.
The Alpha PRoductions team conducted four focus groups of 15 students and two in-depth interviews resulting in a collection of data from 62 students, meeting objective one. More than 450 completed online surveys were also collected, meeting objective two.
The data collected from the focus groups, in-depth interview and survey generated the results for objective three, which was to understand the decision making process of 350 Florida students who chose STEM related fields. The team found that the most common theme throughout the focus groups and in-depth interviews was that students entered STEM-related fields because they first realized they had a knack for the subject at a young age. Overall, students revealed consistent ideas about how hands-on activities at a younger age in STEM-related coursework spurred the interest in these fields. Common themes found throughout the focus groups included the prestige that comes with STEM fields, liking the feeling of challenging themselves to do things others can’t and feeling that they fulfilled their capabilities.
The focus groups, in-depth interviews and online survey yielded the same results in terms of what factors motivate students to pursue STEM majors, stay in them and how they would engage middle and high school students in STEM fields. However, the focus groups and in-depth interviews brought two very important, previously untouched topics to the research:
- the importance of teachers, opportunities and the school system (in terms of what is currently wrong with the system and how it can be fixed) and
- the relationship between creative arts and mathematics and how the two can be combined to increase STEM retention.
By constructing a thorough situation analysis and gathering the qualitative and quantitative research findings, Alpha PRoductions was able to provide the first step for STEMflorida in producing effective messages and programs to reach its goal.