A persistent problem in engineering is an insufficient number of students interested in pursuing engineering as a college major and career. Middle school is a critical time where student interest, identity, and career choices begin to solidify. Student interest in engineering at the K-12 level has been shown to predict whether they pursue engineering as a college major and career. Therefore, research is needed to determine if engineering summer camp activities affect engineering interest and identity in middle school students and in this paper, we present a research study approach to achieve the stated objective.
To develop engineering-specific theories of how engineers are formed, this paper explores interest and identity development of three middle-school populations participating in engineering summer camps offered by the College of Engineering at a Western land-grant institution: (1) Young women in engineering camp (2) First generation camp and, (3) Introduction to engineering camp. The camps are identical in content and designed with the goal of increasing understanding of different engineering fields and careers. The only difference between the three camps is that the women-focused and first generation camps involve participation of guest speakers and role-model mentors appropriate for the camp populations. The main objective of designing this mixed-methods research study is to answer three research questions: (1) How strongly are engineering identity and interest linked to the intention to pursue engineering as a major in college and as a future career? (2) Which specific activities in the camps lead to a change in identity and interest in engineering? (3) To what extent and in what ways do the qualitative participant focus group interviews and observations of participants engaged in camp activities addressing research question (2) contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the quantitative data obtained via pre- and post-surveys addressing research question (1)? The research design leverages existing quantitative surveys. Additionally, focus groups and observations will be based on a selected set of questions from these surveys.
The research design consists of one phase with two data streams. Quantitative data are gathered in Phase 1 from two data collection points: first, when students register for the camp and, second, at the end of the camp (post-survey). Qualitative data in the form of in-depth focus group interviews (at the end of the camp) with 4 – 5 participants per focus group and observations of camp activities during the five days of camp are implemented. For the qualitative analysis, Grounded Theory is utilized for analyzing focus group interview and observation transcripts using an iterative process that involves reading, discussing, and coding. This paper will present details of the quantitative and qualitative analysis methods used for this study.
The research is funded by the National Science Foundation PFE:RIEF program.
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