Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Brandy A. Pleasants, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Betty AJ Adams, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jasvir K. Pannu, Ph.D.


Persistence, Saudi Arabia, STEM attrition, STEM education, women in STEM


STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are a key source of economic progress in many countries. As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia works toward an innovative and knowledgeable economy, more qualified national professionals in STEM are needed. Nevertheless, the problem of STEM attrition is still insufficiently explored in Saudi Arabia, which may indicate a gap between skills of the Saudi workforce and the country’s need for economic development. Therefore, this study attempts to provide more information about the STEM trajectory in Saudi Arabia, underline possible attrition points that require more attention, deliver a better understanding of the factors that impact student persistence in the sciences, and finally, explore the nature of gender differences in STEM. The first part of this study highlights the importance of the first year of university with students’ directions toward STEM and assesses the contributing environmental factors that impact students’ decisions to continue on or drop out of the STEM trajectory. The second part of this study targets students in STEM majors and focuses on the affective factors contributing to students’ experiences in STEM and how these experiences impact students’ intentions to persist in these fields. Two different questionnaires were culturally adapted and validated to be used in this study. The study participants are current students at a university in Saudi Arabia.

The results show that the first year of university is an attrition point for potential capable STEM students. A low level of behavioral and environmental engagement was found among first-year students, and only 31% of them declared STEM for their majors. The second year of university was also found to be critical for students’ persistence in STEM. While students across the university showed moderate levels of affective engagement, the second-year students had the lowest affective scores. Second-year students are found to be at a higher risk for leaving, as 26% expressed intentions to change their major out of STEM. The findings align with what is reported in the literature––the majority of students who leave STEM fields do not persist because of their experiences in the early years. The study recommends placing more attention on the influential aspects of students’ experiences and providing students with more social and academic support, especially during the early years of the STEM trajectory.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access