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Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering

ISSN Print: 1072-8325
ISSN Online: 1940-431X

Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering

DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.2011002912
pages 149-171


Casey George-Jackson
University of Louisville


This study uses longitudinal data of undergraduate students from five public land-grant universities to better understand undergraduate students’ persistence in and switching of majors, with particular attention given to women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The study examines patterns of behavior of women in relation to students’ initial choice of college major and major field persistence. Of particular interest is what fields students enter upon departing from an initial STEM major, rather than assuming that such movements are a loss to the STEM fields. Factors that impact major field persistence are also examined, as well as how switching majors affects students’ time-to-degree. Using a broad definition of STEM, data from nearly 17,000 undergraduate students was analyzed using descriptive statistics and cross-tabulations. The results highlight women’s retention in STEM through their movement between a variety of STEM majors, challenging common notions of departure from the STEM fields. The study calls for researchers to use a broad definition of STEM and highlights the need to follow students upon switching majors.