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“I Don’t Know Why They Make It So Hard Here”: Institutional Factors and Undergraduate Women’s STEM Participation

Danielle Lindemann, Dana Britton, Elaine Zundl

Abstract


Large-scale, aggregate analyses have produced important insights about the relationship between gender and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) participation at the undergraduate level, but they potentially eclipse the impact of institution-specific elements on women’s STEM participation.  On the other hand, intra-institutional analyses have been small in scale.  Through unique access to multi-year data from a highly diverse single-institution sample (n=374), follow-up surveys (n=90), and focus groups, we examine the patterning of students’ STEM major selection and persistence among a freshmen cohort at a women’s residential college (“WRC”) within a larger co-educational university in the United States.  Results support the findings of previous research regarding women in STEM but also extend that scholarship by highlighting three types of institutional factors that played a role in WRC students’ STEM participation: class size, course content, and resources designed to support women in STEM.  These factors work in specific ways within this context to discourage or encourage women’s STEM participation as well as potentially reinforcing inequalities related to other student characteristics, such as race.  We discuss the importance of these results for future research and intervention efforts in this area.  


Keywords


STEM, postsecondary education, institution-level effects

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