Need More Students in STEM Careers? Target Their Parents

Sept. 11, 2012
Research shows interacting with parents can influence their children’s academic choices.

If not commonplace, it is certainly not unusual to find manufacturers engaged in outreach to high school students with the aim of promoting careers in sciences, technology, engineering and math, the so-called "STEM" disciplines.

However, new research suggests that outreach to the parents of those high school students can be instrumental in boosting student enrollment in STEM classes.

The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, points out that simply getting students enrolled in STEM courses in high school can be a hurdle, given that such classes typically are not required during those final years.

That's where Mom comes in.

The research involved 181 U.S. high school students and their parents who were part of the Wisconsin Study of Families and Work. It spanned the final three years of high school.

In short, twice over the course of two years some parents were mailed materials that emphasized the importance of math and science, and the various careers associated with such disciplines. They also were asked to fill out an online questionnaire, which helped to ensure they visited the online STEM content to which they were provided access.

See Also: Manufacturing Workforce Management Best Practices

A control  group of parents received none of the STEM-related materials.

The outcome: Students of parents who had received the STEM materials enrolled in more science and math classes than students of parents who had not received the materials. The difference amounted to about an extra semester of advanced math or science.

The research showed that parents who had received the materials valued both math and science more highly than parents in the control group; they also had more conversations about the topic with their kids.

"This study shows that it is possible to help parents help their teens make academic choices that will prepare them for the future," observed Judith Harackiewicz, of the University of Wisconsin, who was lead author of the study.

Manufacturers, are you listening?

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