Retaining students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is critical as demand for STEM graduates increases. Whereas many approaches to improve persistence target individuals' internal beliefs, skills, and traits, the intervention in this experiment strengthened students' peer social networks to help them persevere. Students in a gateway biology course were randomly assigned to complete a control or values affirmation exercise, a psychological intervention hypothesized to have positive social effects. By the end of the term, affirmed students had an estimated 29% more friends in the course on average than controls. Affirmation also prompted structural changes in students' network positions such that affirmed students were more central in the overall course friendship network. These differing social trajectories predicted STEM persistence: Affirmed students were 11.7 percentage points more likely than controls to take the next course in the bioscience sequence, an effect that was statistically mediated by students' end-of-semester friendships.
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