Can a hard-working female role model counter STEM-requires-brilliance stereotypes and spark girls’ engagement with STEM?
The gender gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) professions results from several factors that deter females from pursuing careers in STEM. Girls’ low interest in science and lack of feeling both belonging and efficacy in science, which emerge as early as middle school, are believed to be part of the problem. This study reports on a novel intervention designed to spark middle school girls’ engagement in science. A diverse group of middle school girls participating in a science outreach event read about a female Black astronaut whose accomplishments were framed either as a result of hard work (growth mindset) or natural abilities (fixed mindset). Participants responded to an open-ended prompt that asked them if they wanted to be an astronaut like the role model and then answered a series of scale measures about science. It was hypothesized that girls in the growth mindset condition would endorse stronger interest, belonging, and efficacy in science, indicate a desire to be an astronaut, and explain that desire in ways that indicated similarity with the role model and alignment with their mindset condition. No significant differences were observed/emerged between the two conditions and exploratory analyses found no interaction between race and condition. Possible reasons for the null findings are discussed, including issues related to mindset manipulation and the strength and specificity of the intervention. Characteristics of the sample were also considered, including participants’ above mid-point science interest and belonging, both of which were positively related to desire to be an astronaut. This research provides insights into the complexities that need to be considered when designing an intervention to increase interest, belonging, and self-efficacy in STEM.