Women in the United States are underrepresented in science, mathematics, and engineering (SME) educational programs and careers. One cause is the dramatic and disproportionate loss of women who intended in high school to pursue science-related careers. This article uses the longitudinal survey responses of 320 male and female SME summer program students to assess the ways in which their social relationships and experiences affect their involvement in science and technology. The issues are framed in terms of identity theory. Structural equation models support the identity framework; emotionally satisfying relationships centered on SME activities and discussions positively shape students' likelihood of thinking of themselves in SME terms and of engaging in SME activities. Girls are more responsive to the programs' educational interventions, whereas boys are driven more by an "internal compass" that reflects past SME identities and behaviors. These findings add to our understanding about why typical SME educational settings may be especially hostile to female students and suggest ways of increasing the retention of talented SME students. They also suggest the need to reexamine the identity theory model.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/james_daniel_lee/7/