Childhood experiences and undergraduate student interest in STEM disciplines: Attending to setting and activity type

June 7th, 2023 | RESEARCH

Informal STEM learning experiences (ISLEs), such as participating in science, computing, and engineering clubs and camps, have been associated with the development of youth’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics interests and career aspirations. However, research on ISLEs predominantly focuses on institutional settings such as museums and science centers, which are often discursively inaccessible to youth who identify with minoritized demographic groups. Using latent class analysis, we identify five general profiles (i.e., classes) of childhood participation in ISLEs from data reported by a nationally representative sample of college students (N = 15,579). Results show that childhood participation in specific typologies of ISLEs (i.e., setting and activity type) is associated with youth’s disciplinary interests at the end of high school. Participation in outdoor activities that invite observation is more often reported by female respondents and is negatively associated with interest in computing and mathematics. Participation in indoor activities that invite object manipulation is more often reported by male respondents and is positively associated with interest in computing and engineering. However, frequent participation in multiple ISLEs is positively associated with interest in “science.” These results elucidate stereotypical discourses that reinforce the exclusion of minoritized students and expose critical areas needing reform.


Team Members

Remy Dou, Author, Florida International University
Heidi Cian, Author, Maine Mathematics & Science Alliance (MMSA)
Zahra Hazari, Author, Florida International University
Philip Sadler, Author, Harvard University
Gerhard Sonnert, Author, Harvard University


Identifier Type: DOI
Identifier: 10.1111/nyas.15013

Publication: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Page(s): 1-10


Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: AISL Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1161052

Funding Source: NSF
Funding Program: Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL)
Award Number: 1846167

Related URLs

CAREER Award: Talking Science: Early STEM Identity Formation Through Everyday Science Talk


Access and Inclusion: Hispanic | Latinx Communities | Women and Girls
Audience: Administration | Leadership | Policymakers | Learning Researchers | Museum | ISE Professionals | Parents | Caregivers | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Computing and information science | Education and learning science | Engineering | General STEM | Geoscience and geography | Life science | Mathematics
Resource Type: Peer-reviewed article | Research
Environment Type: Afterschool Programs | Aquarium and Zoo Programs | Citizen Science Programs | Community Outreach Programs | Higher Education Programs | Informal | Formal Connections | K-12 Programs | Laboratory Programs | Library Programs | Making and Tinkering Programs | Museum and Science Center Programs | Park | Outdoor | Garden Programs | Pre-K | Early Childhood Programs | Public Programs | Summer and Extended Camps