Why are students choosing STEM and when do they make their choice?

Dawes, Les A., Long, Simone, Whiteford, Chrystal, & Richardson, Kathryn (2015) Why are students choosing STEM and when do they make their choice? In Oo, Aman & Patel, Arun (Eds.) Proceedings of 26th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering, School of Engineering, Deakin University, Geelong, Vic.

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The higher education sector plays an important role in encouraging students into the STEM pipeline through fostering partnerships with schools, building on universities long tradition in engagement and outreach to secondary schools. Numerous activities focus on integrated STEM learning experiences aimed at developing conceptual scientific and mathematical knowledge with opportunities for students to show and develop skills in working with each other and actively engaging in discussion, decision making and collaborative problem solving. (NAS, 2013; AIG, 2015; OCS, 2014). This highlights the importance of the development and delivery of engaging integrated STEM activities connected to the curriculum to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers and generally preparing students for post-secondary success. The broad research objective is to gain insight into which engagement activities and to what level they influence secondary school students’ selection of STEM-related career choices at universities.


To evaluate and determine the effectiveness of STEM engagement activities impacting student decision making in choosing a STEM-related degree choice at university.


A survey was conducted with first-year domestic students studying STEM-related fieldswithin the Science and Engineering Faculty at Queensland University of Technology. Of the domestic students commencing in 2015, 29% responded to the survey. The survey was conducted using Survey Monkey and included a variety of questions ranging from academic performance at school to inspiration for choosing a STEM degree. Responses were analysed on a range of factors to evaluate the influence on students’ decisions to study STEM and whether STEM high school engagement activities impacted these decisions. To achieve this the timing of decision making for students choice in study area, degree, and university is compared with the timing of STEM engagement activities.


Statistical analysis using SPSS was carried out on survey data looking at reasons for choosing STEM degrees in terms of gender, academic performance and major influencers in their decision making. It was found that students choose their university courses based on what subjects they enjoyed and exceled at in school. These results found a high correlation between enjoyment of a school subject and their interest in pursuing this subject at university and beyond. Survey results indicated students are heavily influenced by their subject teachers and parents in their choice of STEM-related disciplines. In terms of career choice and when students make their decision, 60% have decided on a broad area of study by year 10, whilst only 15% had decided on a specific course and 10% had decided on which university. The timing of secondary STEM engagement activities is seen as a critical influence on choosing STEM disciplines or selection of senior school subjects with 80% deciding on specific degree between year 11 and 12 and 73% making a decision on which university in year 12.


Although the data does not support that STEM engagement activities increase the likelihood of STEM-related degree choice, the evidence suggests the students who have participated in STEM activities associate their experiences with their choice to pursue a STEM-related course. It is important for universities to continue to provide quality engaging and inspirational learning experiences in STEM, to identify and build on students’ early interest and engagement, increase STEM knowledge and awareness, engage them in interdisciplinary project-based STEM practices, and provide them with real-world application experiences to sustain their interest.

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ID Code: 91506
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: STEM Education, school engagement, outreach
ISBN: 9780730000419
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENGINEERING (090000) > OTHER ENGINEERING (099900)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENGINEERING (090000) > OTHER ENGINEERING (099900) > Engineering not elsewhere classified (099999)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000) > CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY (130200) > Science Technology and Engineering Curriculum and Pedagogy (130212)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Earth, Environmental & Biological Sciences
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 Australasian Association for Engineering Education
Copyright Statement: These proceedings are copyright. Apart from fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without the written permission of AAEE. Responsibility for the contents of the articles rests upon the authors and not the publisher. Data presented and conclusions drawn by the authors are for information only and not for use without independent substantiating investigations on the part of the potential user.
Deposited On: 04 Jan 2016 00:48
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2016 05:34

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