The influence of proactive personality and coping on commitment to STEM majors.

Author:Major, Debra A.
Position:Special Section Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM - Science, technology, engineering, and math

Despite increasing demand for workers in fields that are grounded in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), retention rates are low among relevant college majors. Using Web-based survey data from 290 NTKM majors, the authors investigated links among personality, coping strategies, and STKM major commitment. Proactive personality was positively related to STEM major commitment and to the active planning coping strategy and negatively related to behavioral disengagement. Active planning was positively related to commitment to STKM majors and behavioral disengagement was negatively related to the outcome. Coping strategies fully mediated the relationship between proactive personality and commitment to STHM majors.

As the demand for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers grows globally, the supply is shrinking (Bardsley, 2008). The decline in students majoring in STEM disciplines has prompted worldwide interest in developing strategies for increasing the number of students who enter and remain in the STEM pipeline (Bardsley, 2008; Eleissner, 2006). In the United States, only about 40% of students who enter a STEM major graduate, but for underrepresented ethnic minority groups, the rate is 11 percentage points lower (Byars-Winston, Estrada, & Howard, 2008). Both environmental (e.g., challenging climates) and personal (e.g., low self-efficacy) factors are frequently cited explanations for students leaving STEM majors (Byars-Winston el ah, 2008). The purpose of this study was to determine whether and how personality and coping affect commitment to complete a STEM major among a diverse sample of college students enrolled in a STEM major. Specifically, we evaluated whether coping strategies (i.e., active planning and behavioral disengagement) would mediate the relationship between proactive personality and commitment to completing a STEM major.

Proactive Personality

Bateman and Grant (1993) described a person with prototypic proactive personality as "one who is relatively unconstrained by situational forces, and who effects environmental change" (p. 105). Proactive people search for opportunities, show initiative, take action, and persevere until they bring about meaningful change in their environments (Bateman & Grant, 1993). Research has shown that, when compared with the Big Five personality factors (i.e., neuroticism, extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness), proactive personality is a stronger unique predictor of motivation to learn (Major, Turner, & Fletcher, 2006). Proactive personality has been studied primarily in workplace settings where research has shown that it is associated with a number of positive outcomes.

High proactive personality employees establish higher quality exchange relationships with their leaders; such relationships are linked to an increase in organizational citizenship behaviors and job satisfaction (Li, Liang, & Grant, 2010). Chan (2006) found that proactive personality was positively related to job satisfaction, as well as overall job performance and affective organizational commitment, for individuals high in situational judgment effectiveness. Seibert, Crant, and Kraimer (1999) found a link between proactive personality' and long-term career outcomes such as salary and number of promotions. Erdogan and Bauer (2005) established a link between proactive personality and career satisfaction.

Findings showing a link between proactive personality and positive outcomes in the workplace are expected to be mirrored in academic settings. Individuals tend to develop ties to their field of study during their education before beginning their future careers (Hunter, Laursen, & Seymour, 2007). The characteristics of proactive personality' that lend themselves to work success should be likewise important at the university level, particularly in majors that students find challenging. As Fuller and Marler (2009) observed in a recent meta-analysis, individuals with highly proactive personalities tend to be motivated to work hard and to engage and develop themselves more so than individuals who are not as proactive.

Fuller and Marler (2009) also observed that individuals with proactive personalities are well-suited to modern career paths such as those in the STEM fields. Proactive personality' is linked to learning goal orientation; these individuals are more likely to view challenges as learning opportunities (Elliot & Harackicwicz, 1996) and to focus on developing themselves and adding new skills, which can be particularly important in the rapidly evolving technology fields. We hypothesized that students high in proactive personality' would demonstrate greater commitment to STEM majors than would students who are low in proactive personality.

Hypothesis 1: Proactive personality will be positively linked to commitment to STEM majors.

Coping Strategies

Functional coping strategies are those that involve taking steps in an effort to remove or circumvent stressors or to reduce the impact of those stressors (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989). This may include planning and initiating action, typically in a problem-solving fashion. This type of coping is positively associated with traits of optimism, control, self-esteem, well-being, and hardiness and is negatively associated with anxiety (Carver et al., 1989; Joseph & Linley, 2005; Litman & Lunsford, 2009). When students experience stressful events, planning and taking action tend to be more adaptive strategies than dysfunctional strategies such as denial and behavioral or mental disengagement (Carver et al., 1989)...

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