Date of this Version
Kelly, Grace. 2019. "Social Networks and Science Identity: Does Peer Commitment Matter?" Department of Sociology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NE. Unpublished Manuscript.
White men continue to be overrepresented in STEM fields compared to women and minorities, despite several decades of scholarly interest the disparity. Studies have shown that early adolescence is when children begin to lose interest in science. It is also in this period, that children start to develop ideas and stereotypes about who should be a scientist. It is essential that youth are able to see themselves as science kinds of people. Students who have strong science identities have been shown to perform better in science classes, retain interest in science and continue on to STEM careers. During adolescence, peer opinions take on increasing importance.. Peer support (or lack thereof) can impact students’ science identities.
This work explores how students’ peer networks influence their subsequent commitment to a science identity, through the framework of identity theory. Data for this study comes from a multi-wave, longitudinal dataset, collected from a middle school in a mid-sized Midwestern city (The Science Identity Study (SIS)). I examine two aspects of identity commitment, using both survey (affective commitment) and network (relational commitment) measures. I find that both measures of commitment are positively related to science identity. Additionally, I find that identity commitment positively predicts science identity between waves. Race and gender reduce the strength of some of these associations, but largely processes of identity commitment remain significant. These findings suggest that the friend group is a place where science identity can be fostered. Support from peers can keep youth engaged in science, and help them maintain or strengthen their science identities. Peer networks should not be neglected by educators, policy makers and other STEM stakeholders as they seek to strengthen student science identities. Creating collaborative peer environments may be a key way to educate, mentor, and encourage the scientists of the future.
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