This study tested a hypothesized model of relationships among social cognitive, cultural and contextual factors in relation to STEM degree goals with a sample of ALANA students in engineering and biological science majors. Results of the study were largely consistent with SCCT (Lent et al., 1994
) propositions, indicating that math/science-related academic self-efficacy and outcome expectations were associated with academic goals. Additionally, this study provided preliminary evidence regarding the relevance of cultural and contextual factors to the academic goals of ALANA students in STEM. Several findings are discussed along with applications to practice and implications for future research.
First, congruous with SCCT propositions direct relationships were found between academic self-efficacy and outcome expectations to interests and goals, although this varied by group. These findings indicate that participants who perceived themselves to be efficacious in and anticipate positive rewards from math/science pursuits also expressed STEM interests and goals to complete a STEM degree. The path coefficients (, paths 5 and 8) for outcome expectations to interests and goals were the same for both ALANA engineering and biological science students. It appears that the independent contribution of outcome expectations to goals in this study is due partly to the facilitative path from self-efficacy to outcome expectations. Thus, the physical, social and self-evaluative consequences believed to flow from math/science goal attainment independently foster interests in and goals toward earning a STEM degree, enhanced by the indirect effect of math/science self-efficacy beliefs. The significant path from outcome expectations to interests and goals may also reflect participants’ pragmatic orientation toward STEM pursuits. Indeed, the job prospects, prestige, and pay are comparatively good for STEM workers than in other fields (NSB, 2008
), with the STEM workforce growth rates and salaries exceeding those in the general labor force.
Second, and notable in this study, two pathways were found to differ between the groups. The path coefficient for academic self-efficacy to goals (, path 7) was only significant for the biological sciences group. This finding suggests that for biological science students, the contribution of self-efficacy to goals is both direct and indirect, partially mediated through outcome expectations. Social cognitive theorists (Bandura, 1997
; Lent et al., 1994
) assert that to the extent that a given outcome is based primarily on the adequacy of one’s behavior, efficacy beliefs exert more influence on academic and career goals and behavior. The significant efficacy-goals relationship may reflect this group’s belief in a direct link between their performance and degree attainment, such that the perceived likelihood of success (degree attainment) is high in biological science. The fact that this path also had the largest coefficient (in absolute value) in the model is consistent with Bandura’s (1986)
assertion that efficacy beliefs generally account for the lion’s share of influence on interest and choice goals development.
For engineering students, however, the contribution of academic self-efficacy to goals is only indirect, mediated through outcome expectations and interests (, path 6). The significant path from interests to goals for this group may reflect Lent et al.’s (1994)
proposition that the relation between these two variables will be stronger for individuals who perceive favorable environmental conditions and opportunities to translate their interests into choice goals. More than 50 engineering student organizations exist in the university sampled, with 8 programs and affinity groups serving ALANA students within the engineering college. Approximately 10 student organizations exist campuswide for biological science with 1 affinity group for ALANA students in the life science college. Thus, the interests-goals pathway for engineering students may have captured the influence of other factors not measured for this study, like perceived academic and social supports or encouragement from faculty and staff, which can facilitate the academic goals of ALANA groups particularly in STEM fields (Lent et al., 2005
). This interpretation, however, is based on indirect evidence as we did not explicitly measure perceived environmental support. Whether perceived supports moderate the interest-goal relations for ALANA STEM students is an important direction for future research.
We note that the nonsignificant interests-goals path for biological science students does not necessarily suggest that they perceive less support to realize their STEM degree goals as a function of their interests. Perhaps interests in other domains besides math/science activities inform the goals of this group. For instance, in a qualitative study African American students’ pursuit of science majors was influenced by their interests in doing work that they perceived would make a direct contribution to their ethnic group communities (e.g., research that addresses a health disparity) (Lewis & Collins, 2001
). It is also possible that the nonsignicant relationship between interests and goals for biological science students is a result of the measure used. Other measures of math/science interests that have been used in SCCT studies (Gainor & Lent, 1998
; Lent et al., 2001
) may yield different results.
Third, our hypothesis was partially supported that ethnic factors would be associated with math/science-related academic self-efficacy and outcome expectations. Contrary to previous research, ethnic identity was not significantly associated with perceived campus climate, self-efficacy, and outcome expectations. It may be that direct relations may be found between ethnic identity and learning experiences, i.e., sources of efficacy information, that give rise to efficacy and outcome expectancies. Only other-group orientation (OGO) contributed unique variance to self-efficacy in the path model tested. Prior research has revealed a similar relationship showing an association between OGO and career decision-making self-efficacy for ALANA students (Gloria & Hird, 1999
). The current findings suggest that to the extent ALANA students are comfortable interacting with others outside of their personal ethnic group, they feel more confident in their academic STEM pursuits. The significance of OGO may owe in part to the cultural context of the university sampled, in which ALANA students’ ethnic minority status is acutely evident in colleges of engineering and biological science. Important to note is that the OGO-self-efficacy path fit equally well for both groups, perhaps because ALANA groups are similarly underrepresented in these fields. In 2006–2007, African Americans, Latino/as, and Native Americans (no educational data by degree field reported for Southeast Asians) in the U.S. earned far fewer bachelor’s degrees across all fields than White individuals (18% vs. 72%); they received 15% of biology degrees and 11% of engineering degrees (Digest of Education Statistics, 2008
). Although relative gender parity is more evident in biological sciences compared to engineering (Fassinger, 2008
), racial and ethnic equity remains a challenge in both biological sciences and engineering. Thus, ALANA students’ comfort and negotiation with others outside of their ethnic group appears to be especially functional to successful pursuit of STEM degrees.
The relationship between OGO and academic self-efficacy illustrates the benefit of a bicultural orientation in relation to achieving a STEM degree in a predominantly-White context. It may be that cross-ethnic engagement facilitates acquisition of bicultural competence, practicing and honing behavioral skill sets that increase the individual’s adeptness in multiple environments. Guzmán et al. (2005)
found that Mexican American students who had higher OGO scores also reported positive attitudes toward education and school. A bicultural orientation may mean that ALANA students in this study are exposed to and observe a wider range of people succeeding in STEM pursuits which may increase their social supports, networks, and resources that then fuel their perceived ability to earn a STEM degree. Future research may investigate factors that inform OGO and its relationship to other SCCT variables, like math/science coping efficacy (perceived ability to cope with challenges in pursuing a STEM major), to further clarify its contribution to STEM-related academic and career outcomes.
Taken together, the current findings indicate that OGO indirectly contributes to math/science interests and goals through self-efficacy beliefs for ALANA STEM students. These results highlight the importance of considering and addressing ALANA students’ interethnic contact and comfort as they pursue STEM majors, especially given their significant numerical minority status within these disciplines. Further examination into how cultural factors inform STEM goals for ALANA students in different contexts (e.g., minority-serving institutions) is needed to clarify these pathways. For ALANA STEM students at predominantly-White institutions, positive inter-ethnic interactions with others (e.g., peers, staff, faculty) is an academic asset.
Finally, this study supported the hypothesized efficacy-mediated effects of perceived campus climate on academic goals. ALANA STEM students who are academically confident perceive a more positive campus climate than those who are not academically confident. It may be that those with high efficacy beliefs are more likely to appraise their environments positively in general given their expectations for personal success. Conversely, it may be that perceived positive environments enhance individuals’ sense of competence, and thus a bidirectional relationship cannot be ruled out. From a social cognitive view, a resilient sense of one’s abilities regulates one’s functioning within and appraisal of social systems. Individuals with a high sense of efficacy accept various environmental conditions that may facilitate or interfere with their efforts (Bandura, 1997
) and sustain needed efforts toward their academic pursuits. To be sure, a strong sense of efficacy is vital for successful adaptation to social contexts. Such adaptation is important for ALANA students who often contend with unwelcoming campus environments, especially within STEM disciplines (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997
). This may explain why self-efficacy and OGO jointly mediated the effect of perceived campus climate, with OGO functioning as an index of students’ cultural adaptation. Helping students sustain their academic confidence and have positive inter-ethnic interactions may enhance their perceptions of comfort and fit within the campus context. More research is needed into the relationship of proximal contextual factors, like perceived campus climate, to other SCCT variables including supports and barriers for ALANA STEM students.
There are several limitations to this study. First, this was a preliminary study and thus cautious interpretations of the results are warranted. For instance, the fit of the path model tested herein may vary between racial/ethnic groups or across class standing (i.e., less vs. more advanced students) in STEM. Future studies conducted with other samples and that consider potential academic year or racial/ethnic group differences will help validate the current findings and uncover nuances in the relevance of cultural, cognitive, and contextual factors to their STEM pursuits. Second, the study’s sample was drawn from a selective, research-intensive institution wherein the larger ALANA student population of STEM majors from which this sample was drawn includes academically high-achieving students with high persistence rates in STEM. Not surprisingly given their personal success histories in STEM and college overall, this sample reported high academic self-efficacy and STEM degree goals. Diverse samples from other college contexts (e.g., non research-intensive) may yield different results. Third, this study employed a cross-sectional research design using self-report data and thus the predictive nature of variables’ relationships cannot be established. Studies employing longitudinal research design are needed to identify when and how cognitive, cultural, and contextual variables predict eventual academic and career outcomes. For example, at what point in students’ academic and career development is OGO relevant to self-efficacy and outcome expectations? Finally, methodological limitations include the use of a single item to assess goal outcomes and modified instruments for which psychometric data are unavailable from other samples.
Several counseling implications are implied from the present research. Overall, this study’s findings suggest that for this sample of ALANA STEM students, primarily academic self-efficacy and outcome expectations contribute to their self-regulation toward goal attainment. Given that outcome expectations are partially derived from self-efficacy, it is likely that bolstering efficacy beliefs will have a positive, dual effect on strengthening the academic interests and goals of ALANA students in STEM majors. Support exists for the effectiveness of SCCT-informed interventions using the four sources of efficacy information, such as vicarious learning and verbal persuasion, in increasing self-efficacy beliefs (Chronister & McWhirter, 2005; Sullivan & Mahalik, 2000
). Counselors might examine the impact of such interventions on self-efficacy and outcome expectations (Fouad & Guillen, 2006
) as well as conduct research to identify the factors that give rise to these expectations for ALANA STEM students.
Further, in light of the contribution of OGO to self-efficacy and its mediating role for perceived campus climate, counselors may consider strategies for supporting ALANA STEM students’ comfort interacting with others outside of their ethnic group. Following LaFromboise and Rowe’s (1983)
bicultural skills training program, counselors might use behavioral rehearsal and modeling techniques to develop and sustain students’ bicultural competence. Thompson and Sekaquaptewa (2002)
discussed the value of individuals with solo status, or who are one of very few representatives of their social group, forming a “common ingroup identity” with majority groups. Accordingly, counselors working with ALANA STEM students may explore ways to emphasize ALANAs’ shared identity of being a STEM major with other STEM students, regardless of ethnicity, and identify ways in which they might develop or draw on supports from diverse individuals to achieve their academic goals (Byars-Winston, in press
In summary, our findings suggest that the SCCT model can increase our understanding of the academic interests and goals of ALANA students in STEM majors, an important population more often conceptually and anecdotally discussed but less often empirically examined in STEM scholarship. The results of the present study indicate that retention efforts with ALANA STEM students might do well to address their math/science-related academic efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, inter-ethnic interactions, as well as their social perceptions of campus. This study adds to the research base applying SCCT to STEM disciplines by including ALANA students in both engineering and biological sciences. The differences found between the two groups warrant continued investigations into the shared and distinct dimensions of their academic and career-related experiences. Lastly, these findings may guide tests of the effectiveness of theoretically-driven interventions applying SCCT to ALANA STEM students.