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CBE Life Sci Educ. 2014 Winter;13(4):687-97. doi: 10.1187/cbe.13-11-0213.

Students who demonstrate strong talent and interest in STEM are initially attracted to STEM through extracurricular experiences.

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*Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, George Mason University, Manassas, VA 20110
College of Health and Human Services, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030.
*Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, George Mason University, Manassas, VA 20110.


What early experiences attract students to pursue an education and career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? Does hands-on research influence them to persevere and complete a major course of academic study in STEM? We evaluated survey responses from 149 high school and undergraduate students who gained hands-on research experience in the 2007-2013 Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Programs (ASSIP) at George Mason University. Participants demonstrated their strong interest in STEM by volunteering to participate in ASSIP and completing 300 h of summer research. The survey queried extracurricular experiences, classroom factors, and hands-on projects that first cultivated students' interest in the STEM fields, and separately evaluated experiences that sustained their interest in pursuing a STEM degree. The majority of students (65.5%, p < 0.0001) reported extracurricular encounters, such as the influence of a relative or family member and childhood experiences, as the most significant factors that initially ignited their interest in STEM, while hands-on lab work was stated as sustaining their interest in STEM (92.6%). Based on these findings collected from a cohort of students who demonstrated a strong talent and interest in STEM, community-based programs that create awareness about STEM for both children and their family members may be key components for igniting long-term academic interest in STEM.

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