Supporting Self-Beliefs and Intentions in STEM: A Longitudinal Investigation for Math and Science Ability Self-Concepts and STEM Major Intention among High School Students

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Background: Educational researchers have focused on understanding adolescents’ motivational beliefs and STEM major intentions, with the aim of supporting their postsecondary education in STEM fields. Purpose: This dissertation consists of multiple manuscripts, using longitudinal analyses on a three-year data set from high school students (Grades 10 to 12). The primary goal is to investigate the leading factors predicting ability self-concepts and STEM major intentions as well as their developmental trajectories. Methods: Two studies included three time-waves from the 2017 to 2019 academic years. A total of 1,456 high school students were included in the two studies. Study 1 was grounded on self-concept theories, using a two-level growth curve model to examine the influences of individual, school, and family factors on math and science ability self-concepts and their longitudinal changes. Study 2 was grounded on social cognitive career theory (SCCT) and employed a two-level logistic growth curve model to examine longitudinal change in students’ STEM major intentions and antecedents, including motivational, environmental, and individual factors. Results: In Study 1, results showed that students’ math ability self-concepts significantly decreased, while their science ability self-concepts remained constant over three high school years. Individual factors and school factors positively influenced the two ability self-concepts. However, the family factor of parents’ expectations of students’ future education only positively influenced science ability self-concepts. Demographic variables demonstrated different influences on math and science ability self-concepts. In Study 2, results showed that students’ STEM major intentions significantly decreased over three high school years. Motivational factors and environmental factors positively influenced STEM major intentions. Gender and ethnicity, as two individual variables, were also associated with students’ STEM major intentions. Conclusion: Two studies contributed to the literature by examining the roles of a wide range of pertinent factors in predicting high school students’ perceived math and science ability self-concepts and STEM major intentions. The multilevel approach enhanced our understanding of how ability self-concepts and STEM major intentions changed during a critical developmental period while considering individual characteristics.

STEM major intentions, math and science ability self-concepts, developmental trajectories, high-school students