A qualitative study of motivation in Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) precollege students
The dramatic underrepresentation of Alaska Natives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees and professions calls for rigorous research in how students access these fields. Research has shown that students who complete advanced mathematics and science courses while in high school are more academically prepared to pursue and succeed in STEM degree programs and professions. There is limited research on what motivates precollege students to become more academically prepared before they graduate from high school. In Alaska, Alaska Native precollege students regularly underperform on required State of Alaska mathematics and science exams when compared to non-Alaska Native students. Research also suggests that different things may motivate Alaska Native students than racial majority students. Therefore there is a need to better understand what motivates Alaska Native students to take and successfully complete advanced mathematics and science courses while in high school so that they are academically prepared to pursue and succeed in STEM degrees and professions. The Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) is a longitudinal STEM educational enrichment program that works with Alaska Native students starting in middle school through doctoral degrees and further professional endeavors. Research suggests that Alaska Native students participating in ANSEP are completing STEM degrees at higher rates than before the program was available. ANSEP appears to be unique due to its longitudinal approach and the large numbers of Alaska Native precollege, university, and graduate students it supports. ANSEP provides precollege students with opportunities to take advanced high school and college-level mathematics and science courses and complete STEM related projects. Students work and live together on campus during the program components. Student outcome data suggests that ANSEP has been successful at motivating precollege participants to successfully complete advanced high school and college-level mathematics and science courses prior to high school graduation. This study was designed to examine the motivations of Alaska Native high school students who participated in the ANSEP Precollege components to take advanced mathematics and science courses in high school or before college. Participants were 30 high school or college students, 25 of whom were Alaska Native, who were currently attending or had attended Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) Precollege components in high school. Self-determination theory was used as this study’s theoretical framework to develop the semi-structured interview questions and also analyze the interviews. A thematic approach was used to analyze the interviews. The results of this study indicated that ANSEP helped the Alaska Native high school students gain a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in order to be motivated to take advanced mathematics and science courses in high school or before college. In particular, Alaska Native high school students described that relatedness was an important element to them being motivated to take advanced mathematics and science courses. More specifically, participants reported that the Alaska Native community developed at the ANSEP Building and the relationships they developed with their Alaska Native high school peers and staff played an influential role in the motivation of these students. These findings are important because research suggests that autonomy and competence are more important elements than relatedness because they generate or maintain intrinsic motivation. Alaska Native high school students reported that ANSEP was more successful in helping them gain a sense of competence and relatedness than at helping them gain a sense of autonomy. More specifically, the reason the participants did not feel ANSEP developed their sense of autonomy was because ANSEP restricted their actions during the ANSEP Precollege study sessions. My study implies that Alaska Native students need to feel like they belong in order to be motivated to take and succeed at taking advanced mathematics and science courses. Educators and STEM program leaders should incorporate elements of belonging into the educational environments they develop for their Alaska Native students. Future research should be conducted to determine if other racial minority students need to feel like they belong in order to be motivated to take and succeed at taking advanced mathematics and science courses. My study also indicated that Alaska Native students were motivated to take advanced mathematics and science courses by knowing ANSEP would support them in future programming because of its longitudinal approach. Funding agencies of STEM programs should consider funding programs that provide a longitudinal approach to help Alaska Native students’ sense of competence grow. Future research should include studying other STEM programs to determine if they are motivating their students to take and succeed in advanced mathematics and science courses.
Pawley, Purdue University.
Multicultural Education|Educational psychology|Engineering|Science education|Native American studies
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