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Examining the Relationships between Student-Faculty Interactions and Cognitive and Affective Outcomes for Women and Men in STEM Fields

  • Author(s): Hroch, Amber Michelle
  • Advisor(s): Sax, Linda J
  • et al.

The lack of gender equity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) continues to be an area of national concern. Research since the 1970s has been dedicated to understanding the experiences that contribute to women’s underrepresentation in these fields, both at the student- and institutional-level. Further, women’s underrepresentation varies across the STEM subfields, and is particularly apparent in computer science and engineering (NSF, 2015). Despite the large body of literature on women in STEM fields, few studies have examined the effect of student-faculty interactions on students’ experiences in STEM. As interactions with faculty have been shown to have a significant effect on students’ experiences in college, this topic warrants further investigation specifically for STEM students.

The purpose of this study was to examine how STEM women’s and STEM men’s cognitive and affective outcomes are influenced by academic and personal student-faculty interactions. This study used a set of national longitudinal surveys administered by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). In particular, data for this study are drawn from UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program’s 2005 Freshman Survey and the 2008-2009 College Senior Survey. This study used blocked, stepwise regression, and multinomial logistic regression to inform the relationships between student-faculty interactions and cognitive and affective outcomes.

Findings from this study suggest that interactions with faculty can positively affect STEM students’ cognitive and affective outcomes. Regression results indicate that for women and men, academic and personal student-faculty interactions correspond to higher levels of overall satisfaction, satisfaction with courses, and academic self-confidence. Further, academic student-faculty interactions positively predict college GPA for both genders. However, interactions with faculty were associated with a lower likelihood of persisting in the same STEM major, although questions about directionality are addressed in the dissertation. In light of these findings, the study offers recommendations for how faculty, student affairs practitioners and administrators might better encourage and support student-faculty interactions. Finally, suggestions for future research are provided to expand our knowledge of student-faculty interactions and STEM students’ experiences in college.

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