SPICE Program Research

The Problem

The underrepresentation of women and minorities in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has remained a concern despite 40+ years of attention [1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6]. With the exception of the biological sciences women represent well under half of persons holding STEM jobs [7; 8; 9].

Research shows evidence that formal education environments are not providing girls and women with the messages and experiences that build the foundations for the strong identities and efficacy that predict persistence [10; 11]. Informal science education focuses on the processes, mindsets, and emotional connections to science that can facilitate the formation of identities and self-efficacy. Girls, however, are less likely to have access to informal science opportunities [10].

SPICE and Identity

The SPICE program has been in operation since 2008 and has grown into a cohort-based, science outreach program that provides a three thematic summer camps in two session for middle school aged girls (120 girls per summer). The goal of the program is to encourage more young girls to pursue STEM education and careers. Girls are invited to join the program in the summer following their 5th grade year and attend three consecutive summers of themed science camps. Instructors are drawn from university undergraduate science and mathematics majors and are trained in the application of identity building practices. The theory of action for SPICE is that girls who receive support in the formation of strong science identities will be more likely to pursue STEM careers [1; 3; 12].

The Research Project

            Since 2013, the program directors have conducted research on SPICE camper science attitudes and career preferences. This ongoing study has included over 250 girls in 5th-9th grades who participated in or applied to the SPICE camps. The study includes surveys of camper science affinities, parent surveys of camper science engagement, focus group interviews and individual camper interviews.

Key Findings of the Research

Key findings of the study:

  • The program was implemented with high fidelity to the operationalized theory of identity formation.
  • SPICE campers do experience gains in interest in science, science efficacy, attitudes toward science and science identities as compared to a randomly assigned control group.
  • Girls in the SPICE program express a variety of science identity archetypes rather than one monolithic science identity.

Future Directions

            Soon we hope to be able to follow up with SPICE alumni to find out where they are now and what they are doing. Many of the early campers are now adults attending college. We hope to survey all of our past campers to find out what educational and career opportunities they are pursing and ask about their reflections on the impacts the SPICE program has had on their lives.

            A number of former SPICE instructors have gone on to become K-12 STEM teachers. In Fall 2019 we will be following up with our past instructors to find out where they are now and what impact SPICE has had on their career arcs.

Detailed Results

In the summers of 2013-2015, the PI conducted a series of mixed-methods studies with SPICE program participants to address two major research themes [13; 14]. First, the research addressed program impacts on participants’ science affinities (personal interest, science efficacy, attitudes, and science identities). Second, the studies used data about girls’ science affinities to build theory around girls’ science identity archetypes. Participants included 88 girls attending in the SPICE summer camps 2013-2015 and a comparison group of 150 male and female participants in a non-science focused residential summer enrichment program held during the summers of 2014-2015 on the UO campus. Measures included career preference surveys, science affinities surveys, implicit association tests, focus groups, observations, and individual interviews. In the 2015 study a randomized control group (N=48) was available for comparison on the quantitative measures.

Quantitative measures included four scales of science affinities: interest in science, science efficacy, attitudes toward science, and science identity. All four science affinities were collected prior to the start of camp and immediately following camp for the experimental group (two weeks apart). Affinities for the control group were collected prior to camp in July and again in late August. Analysis of data for program impacts shows that SPICE participants had the same initial science affinities as the control group (see table 1 for mean scores).

Table 1 Results of t-test and Descriptive Statistics for Science Affinities by Group


Treatment Condition

95% CI for Mean Difference






N = 33



N = 18












Cohen’s d

Interest in Science






-2.94, 1.01




Science Efficacy






-1.80, 1.70




Attitudes Toward Science






-5.50, 3.80




Science Identity






-1.52, 195




Three covariates were also collected for all campers. These included free and reduced lunch status, student engagement with science outside of school and student enjoyment of science in school, as measured by parent report. Among the experimental group 33% of students received free and reduced lunch compared to 22% of the control group. And independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare student engagement with science outside of school in the experimental and control conditions. There was not a significant difference between scores for the experimental group (M=2.03, SD=.89) and the control group (M=1.67, SD=.69); t(46)=1.50, p =.141. And independent-sample t-test was conducted to compare student enjoyment of science in school in the experimental and control conditions. There was a significant difference between scores for the experimental group (M=4.40, SD=.68) and the control group (M=3.83, SD=1.04); t(46)=2.29, p =.027.

Analysis of covariance for each of the science affinities following camp revealed significant differences between the experimental and control groups. A One-way ANCOVA was conducted to determine a statistically significant difference between the experimental (camper) group and the control (non-camper) group on the scale of science identities controlling for pre-camp science identity. There is a significant effect of camp experience on post camp science identities after controlling for pre-camp identities, F=(1,46)=25.42, p<.001. Predicted mean post-camp identity scores for the experimental condition (M=16.0) were nearly two points higher than the control condition (M=14.2). Results for the other science affinities were also statistically significant and similar in magnitude.

Hierarchical multiple regression analysis of post camp science affinities using experimental condition as the independent variable and engagement in science outside of school and enjoyment of science in school confirmed experimental condition status as a predictor of post camp science affinities, but revealed no statistically significant relationships for the covariates. Therefore, the results of the ANCOVA can be presumed to be solely due to the intervention and not differences between conditions.

Analysis of interviews and focus group transcripts revealed that girls have diverse approaches, interests, and interpretations of science. Areas of commonality include a strong preference for hands on science activities over worksheets or reading, a fascination with the potential dangers science activities present, and desire to gain a deeper understanding of the workings of the natural world. The most interesting result of the identity analysis was the emergence of different archetypes of science identities. SPICE campers who demonstrate evidence of science identity formation fall into one of three categories: experts, experimenters, and inventors. All three science identities are undergirded by a native curiosity about the natural world, an interest in learning, and a strong preference for hands-on science activities. How this curiosity manifests in girls is somewhat different between type.

 Expert types see scientists as knowledgeable, skillful practitioners who are acknowledged by their peers for mastery in their discipline. Experts desire to achieve skill and recognition in their scientific pursuits. Experimenters prefer an inductive approach to science where they collect data though hands-on exploration without a predetermined hypothesis. Girls of this type evidence a strong resilience to failure and a dislike for “book work.” Inventers also enjoy exploration, but view the goal of science and their own purpose as scientists as creators of useful knowledge, products, and inventions. They are driven by a desire to contribute to society through science.

To summarize, as compared to a randomly assigned control group, girls participating in the SPICE program are predicted to experience increases in all four of the measured science affinities (interest, efficacy, attitudes, and identity). Increases in science affinities ranged from 4% to 13% in girls science affinities already shown to be higher than a comparison group of similar students from a non-science camp [15]. SPICE camp has a measurable impact on characteristics associated with the formation of identity and self-efficacy, which are in turn associated with motivation and intent to continue pursuing activities in the target domain, in this case science [16; 17]. Furthermore, data from the program has revealed nuance in the types of science identities girls are demonstrating. Sharing the strategies employed by SPICE and using them to create media designed to support girls in science will be a valuable resource for girls, parents and teachers.

IRB Protocol 06052013.005



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[15] Todd, B. (2015). Little scientists: Identity, self-efficacy, and attitudes toward science in a middle school girls science camp. PhD Dissertation, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.  

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