This project is supported by an NSF BPE grant. Career choices, such as engineering, are influenced by a number of factors including personal interest, ability, competence beliefs, prior work-related experience, and financial and social supports. However, financial and social support, a particularly significant factor for rural students’ career decisions, is often overlooked in the literature exploring career choice. Moreover, little work has explored how communities serve as key influencers for supporting or promoting engineering as a career choice. Therefore, the goal of this study is to explore the ways in which communities provide support to students deciding to pursue engineering as a college major.
To better understand how students from selected rural area high schools choose engineering as a major, we conducted focus group discussions consisting of 4-6 students each from selected schools to talk collectively about their high school experiences and their choice to major in engineering. Choosing focus group participants from different schools enabled us to elicit tacit perceptions and beliefs that may not be evident when students from the same community talk with one another. That is, as students share their experiences across schools, they may recognize differences in their experiences that, though otherwise unconscious or unacknowledged, proved significant in their choice of college and major.
We expect that certain community programs and the individuals involved will have some influence on students’ decisions to study engineering at [University Name].
We anticipate that the results will yield two key outcomes:
1. A holistic understanding of the communities that effectively support and encourage engineering major choice for rural students.
2. Locally driven, contextually relevant recommendations for policies and programs that would better enable economically disadvantaged, rural schools in southwestern Virginia to support engineering as a career choice for high school students.
By understanding the ways some economically-disadvantaged rural communities support engineering as a career choice and linking a broad spectrum of rural communities together around this issue, this project will broaden participation in engineering by increasing support for students from these areas. By shifting our focus from students to communities, this research broadens our understanding of career choice by capturing the perspectives of community members (including not only school personnel, but also community leaders, students’ families, business owners and others) who often play a key role in students’ decisions, particularly in rural communities. Our research will bring these voices into the conversation to help scholars learn from and respond to these essential community perspectives. In doing so, we will provide a more nuanced model of engineering career choice that can then be explored in other rural contexts. This work thus contributes to the research on career choice, rural education, and engineering education.
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