School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Sherrita Rogers


STEM education, barrier, motivations, low-income backgrounds




The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds that chose to pursue a career in STEM at STEM High School. For the purposes of this study, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds were generally defined as students that qualify for the free and reduced lunch program and STEM careers would be generally defined as any careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The theory that guided this study was Vroom’s expectancy-value theory, which discusses how the individual perceived the outcome to occur (expectancy) and the worth of the outcome on the individual (value) as two predictors of whether an individual would place their foundation for their actions and behaviors towards achieving an outcome. This theory guided the study focused on describing the experiences of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and factors within their experiences that were barriers and motivators towards their desire to pursue a STEM career. The study occurred in a Southern California high school with 10 participants within the study. Data were gathered through observations, interviews, and focus groups, which was then analyzed and synthesized into similar themes experienced among the participants. Eight major themes and five sub themes were identified from the analysis of the participant experiences. These major themes were early exposure, hands on learning, informal learning, real-world learning, greater purpose, external support, accessibility of teacher, and lecture focused environment. Additional research is required to continue exploring the long-term impact of increasing informal learning environments that engage students in hands-on learning at a young age on STEM retention, as well as the long-term impact of barriers, such as non-interactive and lecture-focused courses, on STEM motivation.

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