Date of Award

Fall 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Christine Lotter


Careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are increasing but the number of qualified individuals to fill these positions are not meeting the demand. One way to increase the number of qualified STEM employees is to garner the interest of students from underrepresented groups in the STEM fields. One of these underrepresented groups are first generation college students (FGCS). Understanding what experiences led FGCS to pursue a degree in a STEM field may help attract more students to STEM and help meet the demand of filling future STEM jobs.

In this study, FGCS in the Opportunity Scholars Program (OSP) and a comparison group of nonFGCS STEM majors, both enrolled in the same large Southeastern University, were surveyed about the experiences that led to their pursuit of a degree in a STEM field. Questionnaire and follow-up interviews were completed to collect data to answer three main research questions. These questions were: How do select economic, sociological, and psychological factors differentially influence FGCS and non-FGCS decisions to major in a STEM field? How does participation in informal learning experiences in middle and high school influence FGCS and nonFGCS STEM degree selection? How does participation in formal learning experiences in middle and high school influence FGCS and nonFGCS STEM degree selection?

Analysis of the data showed that there were multiple influencers on the FGCS decision to pursue a dree in a STEM field. Influences that ranked highest among a majority of the students included school counselors, access to tutors, engaging STEM courses in middle and high school, watching STEM related videos on streaming sites, and access to scholarships. Providing FGCS with these opportunities may not only attract more FGCS to major in STEM fields but may also help retain them once in a STEM program.