Cultivating STEM

Cultivating STEM cover: microscope photo with text

Basic information

  • Author(s):
  • Other contributor(s):
    • Gord Van Harn
  • Published: May 21, 2009
  • Publisher: Calvin College Center for Social Research
  • Page count: 62
  • ISBN: 978-09-727260-4-7
  • Full Text: Download

Cultivating STEM cover: microscope photo with text

Results of the West Michigan Major Selection Survey of juniors at Aquinas College, Calvin College, Grand Valley State University (GVSU), and Hope College.

Excerpted from the Executive Summary:

The Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) is “dedicated to strengthening science education and preparing and motivating individuals to pursue science or science-related professions.” At the VAEI’s request, and with significant survey design participation from VAEI staff, the Calvin College Center for Social Research designed and fielded an online survey of college juniors in November and December 2008. With official school support,
the resulting West Michigan College Student Major Selection Survey included 888 juniors from four West Michigan colleges and universities: Aquinas College, Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, and Hope College.

Although demand-side factors such as job availability and earnings potential are important to respondents—markedly more so in the health professions—they do not trump the influence of students’ basic self-concepts. The number one factor driving major choice is the respondents’ perceived “area of natural gifts”; for health professions students, the opportunity to improve the lives of others ranks highest. Likewise, the most common themes among comments involve academic interests (what students like to do) and strengths (what students believe they are good
at). Among factors educational institutions can influence directly, internships and work experience were the most frequently cited as influential.
Other educational factors like individual teachers and courses, counselors and fairs were infrequently cited.

In the fall of 2008, West Michigan juniors were generally confident they would finish their degree programs, get good grades, find enduring work in their chosen fields and even accomplish great things in those fields. STEM majors outside the health professions were statistically less likely than others to expect to finish their degrees and achieve good grades. Health professions majors were statistically more likely than others to expect to find work in their fields and to accomplish great things. Women were less likely to expect to find work.


Carlson, Neil and Amanda Stek. 2009. “Cultivating STEM: Why West Michigan college students select majors in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” Available from Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin College Center for Social Research.


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