Nikki Mertz

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biotechnology Science and Engineering

Committee Chair

Joseph Ng

Committee Member

Roy Magnuson

Committee Member

Neil Lamb

Committee Member

Eric Mendenhall

Committee Member

Sandra Lampley


Engineering--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Alabama--Huntsville, Mathematics--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Alabama--Huntsville, Science--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Alabama--Huntsville, Technology--Study and teaching (Secondary)--Alabama--Huntsville, LABS (Launching Aspiring Biotechnology Scientists)


This mixed methods study was designed to assess how an immersive extracurricular STEM program affected a student’s self-efficacy, science anxiety, and career aspirations. This study utilized the SIC-STEM survey to quantify student self-efficacy in science and the STEM Semantics survey to quantify student interest in STEM. Both surveys also assessed student interest in pursuing careers in STEM. The Science Anxiety survey was used to evaluate how student anxiety in science changed throughout the study. A subject matter survey was utilized to quantify student understanding and comprehension of an advanced science topic. Focus groups were used as the qualitative piece to tie everything together. The L.A.B.S. (Launching Aspiring Biotechnology Scientists) program for underrepresented and disadvantaged high school students at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology was used as the setting for this study. Thirty-five high school students in three separate cohorts participated in the study, with most considered to be underrepresented, disadvantaged, or both. Increasing diversity in the STEM workforce is crucial to ensure the continuation of STEM innovation for decades to come. Providing underrepresented and disadvantaged high school students with opportunities to discover that there is a way for them to succeed in a STEM career will make strides to help them overcome systemic barriers and increase diversity. Significant results were not achieved when examining the three groups independently. However, significant results were seen when comparing genders. Findings suggest that female students’ confidence in working in a laboratory setting and interest in pursuing a STEM degree were positively affected by their participation in the L.A.B.S. program. Continuing to offer programs such as L.A.B.S. and finding ways to support diverse students will help the overall goal of having an inclusive and diverse STEM workforce in the future.



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