Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Gary J. Skolits

Committee Members

Russell L. French, John W. Lounsbory, Jennifer A. Morrow


Public and private sectors are grappling with decreasing numbers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals as the need for them rises. State-supported STEM residential high schools may be the premier conduit to educate and socialize students in order to prepare for STEM college majors and careers. Gaining understanding of how these schools can nurture students academically and affectively so that they successfully matriculate to university STEM settings is valuable; however, minimal research exists related to the affective domain in relationship to retention at state-supported STEM residential schools. This exploratory, mixed methods case study describes factors that contribute to student persistence in a residential school setting.

This study had four purposes: a) to describe students’ meaning of belonging at a STEM residential school; b) to explore potential relationships between students’ personality traits, expectations fulfillment, and belonging; c) to explore potential relationships between belonging and persistence, expectation fulfillment and persistence, and personality traits and persistence, and d) to describe characteristics of persistors and non-persistors. Participants in the study were the student population of the Tennessee Governor’s Academy for Mathematics and Science (TGA) (n = 41). Following interviews of the population, qualitative analysis of the interviews included pattern coding and creation of an explanatory effects matrix; quantitative analysis of survey data utilized ANOVA, chi-square, and correlation. Results of analyses produced a student-generated, multidimensional definition of belonging and showed that students who perceived they belonged and expressed institutional commitment via ownership of TGA had the highest persistence rate (100%). Quantitative findings showed that students whose expectations for TGA were met or exceeded had a higher sense of belonging, and belonging was associated with higher persistence. The personality traits agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, and work drive were significantly related to belonging, suggesting that sense of belonging may function as a moderator between personality traits and expectation fulfillment.

For future study, a longitudinal design is recommended as well as incorporation of the variable educational practices in relation to the variables expectation fulfillment, personality, belonging, and persistence.

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