Date of Award

12-15-2014

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Department

Educational Studies

First Advisor

Susan L. Schramm-Pate

Abstract

Career interests develop over a lifetime and tend to solidify during late adolescence and early adulthood (Lent, Brown, and Hackett, 2002). The primary purpose of the present qualitative study, which is framed in Feminist Standpoint Theory (Haraway, 1988; Harding, 2007; Naples, 2007; Richardson, 2007), is to understand how eighthgrade, young women in a suburban, public, southern, middle school the South Carolina County School District (CCSD) (pseudonym) perceive their accessibility to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses and careers. The secondary purpose is to understand these young women’s “perceptions and unconscious beliefs about gender in science and mathematics” and how their “perceptions and unconscious beliefs about gender” in the STEM fields may impact the careers that these young women may choose in the future (American Association of University Women, 2010, 9). Within the present study, the perceptions of young women who were identified as “Interested in Science,” “Somewhat Interested in Science” and “Uninterested in Science” were studied. STEM courses and careers are a major emphasis in education today. Increasing the numbers of Americans who pursue STEM careers is a government priority, as these careers will strengthen the economy (AAUW 2010). The present study reveals how young women who are highly motivated, talented students perceive STEM courses and careers and how they are influenced by their experiences, gendered messages, and knowledge of STEM careers. To analyze the data, four of Saldana’s (2010) dramaturgical codes were utilized including: 1. OBJectives, or motives; 2. CONflicts the participants faced; 3. TACtics to dealing with obstacles; and 4. ATTitudes toward the setting, others, and the conflict. The InVivo Codes allowed the participants stories to emerge through the set of dramaturgical codes that allowed for viewing the girls’ experiences in different ways that added depth to their stories. The young women in the present study were affected by gendered messages and stereotypes about a woman’s place in STEM. The participants felt better suited for some STEM careers based on interest, experience, and skill level. However, the participants perceived other STEM careers to be out of reach due to a lack of knowledge of the careers and the influence of gendered messages.

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