Date of Award

January 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Anne Walker


Recent studies on STEM education in the United States (U.S.) have largely focused on such issues as the ever increasing need for more STEM workers, STEM attrition/retention, the gender gap in STEM, encouraging more STEM enrollment both at college and post-graduate levels, and the use of modern technology to facilitate STEM education. Other studies have considered the impact of immigrants on STEM education in the U.S. and on the U.S. economy in terms of either creating or filling STEM jobs. Many of those studies underscore the importance of immigrants in boosting the high skilled, much needed, STEM labor force and thereby increasing the global competitiveness of the U.S.

Despite a large volume of STEM-related research in the U.S., minimal research has focused on immigrants who enter the U.S. without prior STEM backgrounds and choose STEM or related majors while in the U.S. In particular, no prior study has considered Cameroonian immigrants with non-STEM majors and who switch into STEM or related fields upon arrival in the U.S. Such studies could unveil key factors that serve as strong motivators for STEM enrollment.

To fill this gap, the present study investigated why Cameroonian immigrants who came into the U.S. without a prior STEM background switched into STEM or related fields while in the U.S. The study involved 8 Cameroonian immigrants who were majoring in either a STEM or related field who came into the U.S. without a prior STEM background. Data was obtained through in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face, individual participant interviews.

Participants attributed their failure to major in STEM while in Cameroon to the following: stereotypes, limited financial and other resources, negative influence from teachers, peers, relatives, and others, and the impact of non-STEM role models. Participants attributed their choice to switch into STEM or related fields while in the U.S. to job discrimination within non-STEM fields, ease of employment within STEM, and the impact of friends and others who directly encouraged them to switch. In comparing STEM education in Cameroon and the U.S., participants felt the U.S. offered many advantages such as increased flexibility, teacher accessibility, and financial and other resources. It was found that although participants had faced challenges upon switching into STEM in the U.S., their determination/resilience had led them to overcome those challenges and persist in their new majors. Overall, gender differences were insignificant in the decision to switch to a STEM or related major in the present study.