Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Education



First Advisor

Frank Fernandez

Second Advisor

Neal Hutchens

Third Advisor

Barry Babin

Relational Format



Higher education institutions play a pivotal role in preparing students to acquire the skills necessary to enter the STEM workforce and serve as critical partners in the STEM educational-occupational pipeline. It is imperative that postsecondary institutions encourage equal opportunities for admittance into STEM domains. However, research has consistently demonstrated that gender and racial disparities continue to exist in STEM fields at the postsecondary level, particularly when viewed through the lens of disaggregated disciplinary data. One way to address inequitable attainment across STEM is to evaluate whether students prematurely preclude themselves from STEM participation due to a misalignment between students’ self-perceptions and the attributes they believe are required for STEM success. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate whether incoming first-year students’ concepts of disciplinary brilliance and innate intelligence would relate to students’ self-perceptions of their ability, interest, and consideration to major in STEM. This analysis was conducted and compared across four STEM domains: Life Sciences (biology/chemistry), Physical Sciences (math/physics), Applied Physical Sciences (computer science/engineering), and Health Sciences (premed/medical sciences).

A 104-item instrument was created and administered to a sample of more than 300 incoming first-year students enrolled in introductory writing courses to evaluate the relationships between students’ self-perceptions and their perceptions of STEM. The expectancy-value theory served as the theoretical framework to test the interrelationships among students’ perceptions through single-group structural equation models across the four STEM domains. Multiple-group structural equation models were also employed to test whether students’ perceptions of STEM varied as a function of their gender or racial identities.

Findings from the single-group analyses suggested that the interrelationships among students’ perceptions functioned similarly within models and were relatively consistent across the Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Applied Physical Sciences, and Health Sciences. The multigroup analyses revealed that overall perceptions differed between men and women for the Applied Physical Sciences (computer science/engineering). Discussions of the structural equation model findings are provided alongside recommendations for how faculty and higher education practitioners can engage with incoming students who may be interested but reluctant to pursue STEM domains.


Higher Education



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