Urban High School Opportunity Structures, Figured Worlds of STEM, and Choice of Major and College Destination

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The primary research objective is to investigate the mechanisms through which high school opportunity structures and students’ figured worlds of STEM are linked on the ground of actual school practice to student choice of STEM major and college destination.


Four high schools in the Denver, CO, metropolitan area; four high schools in the Buffalo, NY, metropolitan area.

Research Design: 

This project has a longitudinal and comparative research design and will generate evidence that is both descriptive [case study, ethnography, observational] and associative/correlational [interpretive commentary]. Original data is being collected from high achieving high school sophomores with interests in science, math, engineering, and technology using school records, assessments of learning, observation [personal observation], and survey research [self-completion questionnaires, structured interviewer-administered questionnaires, and semi-structured interviews].

Instruments or measures being used include student interviews, teacher interviews, principal interviews, counselor interviews, parent interviews; questions from NELS and ELS to construct a descriptive survey that will be administered to all students regarding course selection, use of technology and experiences with counseling for college; and questions from HSLS (2009) to construct a survey of STEM interests and activities that will be used to compare our sample with national samples.

Data will be analyzed qualitatively (via coding and connecting strategies) to (1) construct models of opportunity structures at each school; (2) identify figured worlds at each school; (3) outline student trajectories over time; (4) identify mechanisms by which opportunity structures and figured worlds can be linked to choice of major and college; and (5) to compare opportunity structures, figured worlds, and major and college choices in (a) STEM versus non-STEM focused schools and (b) NY vs. CO.


Findings will be posted as they become available.