From Girls to Women in STEM: A Qualitative Phenomenological Study
Early engagement of girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) leads to greater numbers of girls who become women in these fields. Few studies explore the benefit of implementing STEM programs in middle school. Even fewer studies explore benefits those programs may have on meeting girls’ interest in STEM when the interest is at its highest level. As a result, the problem is an underemphasis on middle school girls' participation in STEM education. The current qualitative phenomenological study explored the essence and meaningfulness of middle school experiences of 15 women who worked in a STEM field in the United States and Mexico at the time of this research. The study included an investigation into how middle school STEM classes may have influenced participants’ decision to become STEM professionals. Participants filled out questionnaires, were interviewed, field notes were taken, and then, participants reviewed and verified their responses through a process called member checking. A 6-step framework was utilized to prepare data and the thematic content analysis approach was used to analyze data. Growth mindset theory and transformational leadership theory provided the framework for this study. Results indicated participants who received support from a combination of teachers, peers, and family, participated in enrichment activities, and who saw female STEM professionals during middle school became women in STEM. Findings from this research may help determine best practices for implementing STEM programs in middle school so more girls become women in these fields.