Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in STEM Education


Curriculum, Instruction, and Foundational Studies

Major Advisor

Louis Nadelson, Ph.D.


Much attention has been given to the shortage of STEM professionals entering the workforce in the United States. Reasons for the disinterest in pursuing STEM degrees are many. Some argue students are disinterested with STEM content during early adolescence as a result of negative peer labeling, such as “brain” or “nerd,” towards individuals who demonstrate aptitude in STEM content. The purpose of my study was to investigate whether peer labeling in middle school is directed towards students who show an aptitude for STEM content, and further, to determine whether peer labeling impacts motivation and engagement in STEM content. There are two research questions in my study: 1) Do students label or stereotype peers who show an aptitude for STEM learning? 2) What are the levels of enjoyment and interest in STEM content areas? Fifty-three middle school students volunteered to participate in my study. I administered a 12-question survey to each participant to determine the presence of name-calling and teasing; attitudes towards STEM content; and whether or not peer pressure is used to direct negative attitudes towards students who show aptitude in STEM content. Results show that name-calling and teasing in middle school for aptitude in a particular subject area is most likely to be directed towards students who show aptitude in mathematics, but it is unclear whether name-calling reduces interest in studying mathematics. Additionally, students find both science and mathematics to be valuable, but they are least interested in learning math. More research is needed to understand why students are maintaining interest in science, yet losing interest in mathematics.