The investigator is conducting a 4-year study of student decision making to enter STEM professions by conducting a follow-up survey of a national sample of 30-year-olds. The investigator had previously conducted a national survey of public school students in the 7th and 10th grades, which collected student performance in mathematics and science, courses taken in high school and college, personal attitudes toward science, and career plans. The investigator now is following up these same students as they have aged and are beginning careers at approximately age 30 to ask them in what field they are currently working and what career decisions were made that affected their involvement with mathematics and science. This longitudinal study of student performance is providing new information about student decisions during their decision-making about careers in science and engineering and particularly about their experiences in undergraduate school. The background information contains information on the student early educational and occupational expectations, their parental background, their self-perception, and their activities while in high school and college. The collection of career activities as an adult permits the analysis of the influence of beliefs and plans made during secondary school and college on adult choices. The survey will provide national estimates of the statistical parameters of probabilities of selection and performance.

Intellectual Merit:

The new data set has a large potential for informing other researchers about the status of student decision-making in science and engineering professions. The project addresses questions of career choice that are central to the STEM program and is likely to be useful for informing the NSF community about the strength of factors that are associated with choosing science careers.

Broader Impact:

The results of this national study are likely to be of wide interest to professional researchers and policy makers in science and engineering. The study provides a broad based analysis of choices faced by students facing career choices. The investigators are seeking opportunities to provide results more directly to students and administrators in undergraduate institutions.

Project Report

For the United States to be competitive in the world in the 21st century, it is important to have a strong scientific and technical workforce and a substantial majority of citizens who are sufficiently scientifically literate to make sense of issues ranging from nuclear power to infectious diseases to stem cell research. The best way to understand the development of student interests, attitudes, motivations, skills, and aspirations is to follow the same students over a period of years in a longitudinal study. This award supported the revival and continuation of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY). Originally funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1986, the LSAY selected a national sample of 7th and 10th grade students in public schools throughout the United States and studied how they (1) developed an interest in science, mathematics, and technology; (2) developed skills and competence in science and mathematics, including course selections and achievement; (3) formed their educational and occupational plans for the years ahead; and (4) acquired a basic understanding of public policy issues involving science or technology. The LSAY collected achievement test and attitudinal questionnaires from 5,900 students for an initial period of seven years to study these core issues, ending in 1994. A substantial amount of analysis was completed on these initial data, including numerous articles and book chapters describing the importance of beginning algebra in 8th grade and persistence in mathematics throughout high school and into college. With additional NSF support, a textbook coding procedure developed for use in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was used to classify the content and level of science and mathematics instruction experienced by LSAY students in middle school and high school. This enrichment of the basic data set made it possible to examine the extent and impact of tracking in American public schools and a number of additional reports, articles, and book chapters were published as a result of this work. The grant for which this report is filed provided support to locate all of the original student participants in the LSAY and to initiate a new annual survey of these students, who were then aged 33 to 36. Using available tracking resources, it was possible to account for 98% of the original students. Some of the original students were deceased and others had been the children of foreign nationals who returned home. Some students had become mentally or physically unable to participate in the study. A total of 5,000 of the original 5,900 students were located and remained eligible to participate in the study. In 2007 and 2008, annual surveys were supported by this grant and approximately 79% of the eligible sample of participants completed updated records of their educational and occupational activities from the end of high school. This expanded data set allows the examination of educational and occupation outcomes in the context of their middle school, high school, and post-secondary educational experiences. The same participants have continued to complete annual questionnaires under subsequent NSF grants and the LSAY has become a national resource for understanding the developmental origins of young adult outcomes. Without the support provided by this grant, none of the current or future results from the LSAY would have been possible. The extended LSAY longitudinal record has already made important contributions to the educational and career literature and the January, 2012, issue of the Peabody Journal of Education is devoted entirely to an analysis of student pathways into careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) fields. Eight of the 10 articles in this special issue are based solely on LSAY data and the findings will provide important policy guidance in this field. In addition to publications by the LSAY staff, the data from the LSAY from 1987 through 2007 have been deposited in the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and are available to graduate students and other scholars for secondary analysis. During the first 20 years of the LSAY, a total of 40 dissertations and more than 100 journal articles have been published using these data. This is a major contribution to scholarship in this field and education of new scholars in this area. There are important benefits to the broader society from the work sponsored by this grant. We live in a competitive global economy and future generations of Americans will have to compete successfully with young people from Brazil, China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, and other nations. In an influential book titled Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the National Academies of Science and Engineering have warned that it is essential for the United States to win this competition if we want to preserve our standard of living. The data from the LSAY provide important answers to these critical questions.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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Myles G. Boylan
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
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