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During the undergraduate years, involvement in research projects and the guidance of experienced mentors are powerful means of retaining students in S&E.2 Mentors can provide advice, encouragement, and information about people and issues in a particular field. An early exposure to research can demonstrate to students the kinds of opportunities they will encounter if they pursue research careers.


When one examines the issue, it becomes clear that there is a great deal of domestic student interest in undergraduate S&E programs. About 30% of students entering college in the United States (of whom over 95% are US citizens or permanent residents) intend to major in S&E fields. This proportion has remained fairly constant over the last 20 years. However, a considerable gap exists between freshman intentions and successful degree completion. Undergraduate S&E programs report the lowest retention rate among all academic disciplines. A National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) longitudinal study of first-year S&E students in 1990 found that fewer than 50% of undergraduate students entering college declaring a S&E major had completed S&E degrees within 5 years.3 Indeed, approximately 50% of such undergraduate students changed their major field within the first 2 years.4 Undergraduates who opt out of S&E programs are among the most highly qualified college entrants.5 They are also disproportionately women and nonwhite students, indicating that many potential entrants are discouraged before they can join the S&E workforce.6


R. F. Subotnik, K. M. Stone, and C. Steiner. “Lost Generation of Elite Talent in Science.” Journal of Secondary Gifted Education 13(2001):33-43.


L. K. Berkner, S. Cuccaro-Alamin, and A. C. McCormick. Descriptive Summary of 1989-1990 Beginning Postsecondary Students: 5 Years Later with an Essay on Postsecondary Persistence and Attainment. NCES 96155. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 1996.


T. Smith. The Retention and Graduation Rates of 1993-1999 Entering Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Majors in 175 Colleges and Universities. Norman, OK: Center for Institutional Data Exchange and Analysis (C-IDEA), University of Oklahamo, 2001.


S. Tobias. They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different. Stalking the Second Tier. Tucson, AZ: Research Corporation, 1990; E. Seymour and N. Hewitt. Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997; M. W. Ohland, G. Zhang, B. Thorndyke, and T. J. Anderson. “Grade-Point Average, Changes of Major, and Majors Selected by Students Leaving Engineering.” 34th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, 2004. Session T1G:12-17.


M. F. Fox and P. Stephan. “Careers of Young Scientists: Preferences, Prospects, and Reality by Gender and Field.” Social Studies of Science 31(2001):109-122; D. L. Tan. Majors in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: Gender and Ethnic Differences in Persis

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