2021 CoNECD

A Systematized Literature Review of STEM Intervention Programs for High School Students and the Effects on Student Retention

Presented at CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 1 Technical Session 3

Title: A systematized literature review of STEM intervention programs for high school students and its effects on student retention

This study describes a systematized literature review on articles relevant to the effectiveness of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) intervention programs at identifying and retaining high school-aged underrepresented minority students interested in engineering. In this paper, I explore the literature in the engineering education space concerning how intervention programs expose underrepresented minority students in high school to engineering and its effects on student retention in STEM . The review details the methodology of the literature search through relevant databases for journal articles related to STEM programs that support underrepresented high school students interested in STEM. The search resulted in a full-text review of 25 articles that explore programmatic outcomes for pre-college students with the intent to diversify the STEM workforce. Initial findings suggest that the goal of these intervention programs is to provide enriching experiences for these students to encourage interests to pursue a STEM career as well as boost confidence in STEM subjects. Metrics used to target the effectiveness of programs revolved around three criteria: student academic achievement in science and math, matriculation through a STEM major and competency in engineering-oriented skills. Three common recommendations for more robust programs are well-prepared STEM teachers, a college-preparatory, STEM-focused curriculum, and a robust network of student support systems. The literature review is a first step in evaluating the various methods in which high school students are trained in engineering and whether this leads to students choosing engineering as a viable career option.
Literature Review
Industrialists, educators, and scientists reached a consensus regarding the low scientific literacy of the United States (National Science Foundation, 1996). As the world becomes increasingly technological, the U.S. has begun to seek new approaches for broadening participation in STEM beyond the white, male labor supply (Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012). Increasing participation in STEM careers by engaging underrepresented youth in K-12 serves as a means of meeting the national demand for a competitive STEM workforce (Byars-Winston, 2014). Outreach programs may provide youth from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds with an accessible, out-of-school curriculum to establish an early awareness of STEM careers (Genalo, Bruning, Adams, 2000).
Increasing the number of diverse professionals in the STEM workforce begins with exposing, preparing, and educating students at an early age. Minority students experience disenchantment with STEM at a young age for several reasons. Factors ascribed to underrepresentation include intimidating climate in science classes, poor quality of instruction, little (or no) career counseling, and perceived lack of relevance to daily life (Seymour and Hewitt, 1994; Simpson, 2003). Students from low socioeconomic status (SES) background, a high percentage of whom are minorities, have limited resources and access to high-technological equipment (DeCastro-Ambrosetti & Cho, 2002). Due to these and other factors, the nation has shown a steady decline in STEM affinity and STEM career trajectories among high school graduates and college students (Council of State Governments, 2010). The National Science Foundation Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering determined in 2007 that K-12 programs were key to increasing the number of students seeking STEM careers.
In this project, I explore the methods and outcomes of Pre-college engineering programs that target underrepresented minority students in high school. Based on my personal experience with intervention programs I’ve seen how STEM interventions shared a common goal of promoting STEM to spark the interest of and equip students to persist in STEM majors and careers. The type of interventions I have observed vary widely from afterschool programs to STEM high schools. In addition to organizational structure, the length of time in which students participated in programmatic activities also ranged between a few hours to 3 years. Despite program length and structure, student feedback mostly indicated positive outcomes, including higher interests in STEM, developing support systems, and gained confidence in STEM-oriented skills and abilities. College and career preparation incorporated in program activities consistently aligned with student’s matriculation into STEM majors.
The wide range of exploratory activities, support systems, and curricula contributes to the effectiveness of recruiting students into the STEM pipeline. Due to the high variability in STEM programs, this literature review aims to assess the practical methods of educating and retaining minority students interested in engineering careers.
This research topic examines how enrichment programs, such as those described in the previous section, prepare underrepresented minority students in high school for careers in engineering. The population was limited to underrepresented minorities in high school. In this literature review, students outside of the United States were not considered as part of the populace because underrepresentation in engineering is consistent within a national context. Although engineering programs are the primary intervention of interest, discussions of STEM programs were also included to allow for articles that do not separate engineering from science, technology, and mathematics. The programs’ approaches to fostering interests in engineering careers and retaining student participants in STEM were studied.
Research Question
Although this research project fits within a larger goal of understanding how to prepare underrepresented minority students to be engineering professionals, the research question for this project is concerned with how high school intervention programs contribute to underrepresented minority student success in STEM. The research question is:
What does the literature say about how STEM intervention programs prepare and retain underrepresented minority high school students for engineering careers?
The results below come from a content analysis of 25 articles collected in a systematized search (Thomas & Harden, 2008). Four themes emerged from an analysis of these articles. First, articles discussed the critical components aimed to develop the experiences and engagements of students within the program. Second, articles generally identified approaches in which educational content was delivered with limited emphasis on its direct contribution to the student experience. Third, articles typically emphasized the importance that informal and formal support systems contributed to students’ confidence and persistence in STEM. Finally, articles generally discussed assessing student outcomes by measure of the improvements of student interest in STEM and confidence in STEM-oriented skills through pre- and post-surveys or tracking matriculation into STEM majors and careers. The narrow research conducted into student experiences in enrichment programs brought forth opportunities to explore effective methods of operating a STEM program.
From a systematized review of 25 peer-reviewed journal articles, I found four emergent themes related to how STEM interventions implement programs, execute STEM education, develop support systems, and collect common data points to justify program effectiveness for underrepresented minority students in high school. These themes related to the programmatic components in the articles, the pedagogical approaches for facilitating STEM education, informal and formal support systems that developed students’ belongingness within a STEM community, and common student outcomes sought after by programs. These findings not only connect pre-college engineering program choices and impact but also indicate how underrepresented high school students may enter and persist in the engineering pipeline by participating in strategic programs.

Byars‐Winston, A. (2014). Toward a framework for multicultural STEM‐focused career interventions. The Career development quarterly, 62(4), 340-357.
Council of State Governments. (2010). Women and minorities in STEM education. Capitol facts & figures. Retrieved from http://knowledgecenter.csg.org/drupal/system/files/FF_Women_STEM.pdf
DeCastro-Ambrosetti, D., & Cho, G. (2002). Technology— panacea or obstacle in the education of diverse student populations. Multicultural Education 10: 25–30.
Genalo, L., Bruning, M., & Adams, B. (2000). Creating AK 12 Engineering Educational Outreach Center.
Gonzalez, H. B., & Kuenzi, J. J. (2012). Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education: A primer. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.
National Science Foundation. (1996). Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology, National Science Foundation 96– 139.
Seymour, E., and Hewitt, N. (1994). Talking About Leaving: Factors Contributing to High Attrition Rates Among Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Undergraduate Majors, Bureau of Sociological Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO.
Simpson, J. C. (2003). Curriculum changes are key to diversity in engineering education. The Johns Hopkins Magazine, June 16–17.
Thomas, J., & Harden, A. (2008). Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 8(1), 45. http://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-8-45

  1. Mr. Donovan Colquitt Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) [biography]
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