Many universities are well positioned to provide out-of-school programs for students of all ages, offering hands-on engagement in authentic engineering practices as well as a range of role models and social supports for interests in STEM. Universities may offer such programming for mission-oriented or altruistic reasons such as broadening participation in STEM fields and offering opportunities to youth in the local community. Pre-collegiate outreach programs may also support self-interests such as generating revenue and attracting diverse students as potential applicants to the university. Scholars agree that the middle school years are a critical time for identity development and career planning for girls, particularly with regard to supporting interests in engineering. However, can a middle school program really contribute to those longer-term recruitment effects? In our experience the answer is yes, particularly if participants are encouraged to return to the university for additional programming.
In this presentation, we will share findings from a longitudinal study of more than 700 girls who applied to a two-week engineering summer camp at a STEM-intensive university as sixth graders. Spots in the program were limited, and a lottery process was used to select participants. Those who were not randomly selected form a natural control group that accounts for self-selection bias. The camp program was designed with research-based principles including embedding engineering practice in valued social contexts, use of collaborative learning, interaction with a wide range of role models in STEM fields, and invitations to return to campus in the years following the summer program.
For each participant in the study we compiled the following outcome variables: whether or not she chose an engineering degree pathway, and whether or not she applied and/or matriculated at the host university. Other variables consisted of group membership (intervention or control), the total number of STEM program “touchpoints” with the university, and race/ethnicity. Statistical tests of association between these variables and outcomes showed that the number of touchpoints was most strongly associated with application and matriculation to the STEM-intensive host university and with choice of an engineering degree pathway. These results support the research emphasizing the importance of identity development and social supports to foster persistence in STEM.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.