What is a STEM Identity?
When children think about what they want to be when they grow up, often their dreams are inspired by who they look up to. It’s for this reason that encouraging students to pursue a potential career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), requires an understanding of the powerful influence of STEM identities.
Simply put, an identity is a collection of traits and characteristics students can relate to and apply in their own lives. According to research from CAISE (the Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education), developing a science-related identity increases the likelihood that students will work toward developing science literacy, or even pursue a career in a science or STEM-related field.
Adopting a STEM identity is effective because it creates a set of positive expectations that leads to engaged learning. When students have examples in their mind of individuals who have achieved professional success, their excitement naturally propels them to take responsibility for what they’re learning. Instead of studying and putting in the work solely for a good grade, students take control of their learning because they are motivated by genuine interest and excitement.
The Troubling Lack of Female and Minority STEM Identities
Unfortunately, when students lack a STEM identity, this increases the chance for disengagement and the creation of a negative feedback loop. This disinterest can weaken an emerging STEM identity and make it less likely for a child to pursue STEM-related activities in the future.
For young women and minority students who are underrepresented in many STEM professions, finding a STEM role model they can look up to can prove challenging. Popular culture does not provide many solutions, and the Lyda Hill Foundation, in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that the number of female STEM characters portrayed on TV and in film has remained stagnant for the past decade.
Recent research published in the International Journal of STEM Education found that one of the main concerns for science educators is the current underrepresentation of women and minorities in science and technology fields. The researchers in the study also found that developing a strong science-based identity at an early age is especially important for girls and plays a large part in determining if they will pursue a STEM career in the future.
Using Summer Programming to Build STEM Identities
Summer programs that introduce STEM concepts through hands-on activities have been shown by the American Institutes for Research to increase students’ interest and engagement in these innovative subjects. Because these interactive programs often do not feel like school, students who participate in them are more likely to develop STEM identities they can continue to grow once they return to school in the fall.
At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we take pride in introducing STEM role models across our entire range of education programming. Our flagship Camp Invention® program in particular achieves this by portraying our world-changing Inductees as innovative superheroes that kids are able to relate to.
To learn more about NIHF’s goal to help children develop STEM identities of their own, we encourage you to visit our website.