Date of Award

Spring 2020

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sheree T Sharpe

Second Advisor

Karen J Graham

Third Advisor

Ernst Linder


Motivated by an innovation-driven economy, critical emphasis has been placed on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce in the United States. Education has been charged to prepare a diverse population of young people qualified to take up these jobs and lead the nation into a rapidly evolving technological future. How to best approach this goal is still being negotiated. While past research and efforts focused largely on improving students’ achievement in mathematics and science, more recent research points to the need to also consider students’ attitudes towards STEM subjects. However, what types of attitudes (e.g., self-efficacy, identity, interest, utility) are most important and how to best promote them remains unclear. This dissertation research project aims to better understand the relationships between U.S. high school students’ STEM-related educational experiences, attitudes, achievement, course taking, and college major choices. Analyses employed data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) and used structural equation modeling to examine expectancy-value models of STEM motivation. Differences across gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic groups were examined to investigate why certain groups have historically been underrepresented in STEM. The results suggest that it is a sense of identity as a math or science person that is the most important attitude related to students’ decision to major in STEM and that, furthermore, best explains underrepresentation.