Redefining science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM): educational opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students at NASA
Underserved and underrepresented students consistently leave science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree fields to pursue less demanding majors. This perpetual problem slowed the growth in STEM degree fields (United States Department of Labor, 2007). Declining enrollment in STEM degree fields among underserved and underrepresented students weakens the ability of the United States to remain competitive with the global community in high-tech industries. As demographics in the U.S. continue to shift towards a more diverse populous, the need to attract underserved and underrepresented students to STEM degree fields proves imperative. For the purposes of this qualitative study, underserved and underrepresented undergraduates at two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and one Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) participated in 30 interviews. These interviews gauged student interest in STEM as a result of participation in the NASA University Research Centers (URCs) project, and sought to identify factors that deterred students from persisting in STEM degree fields by using a self-efficacy framework. Self-efficacy describes the ability of students to successfully overcome perceived challenges. Recommendations for practice encompass mentoring, the development of self-efficacy, persistence, marketing, and networking.