One significant barrier to broadening participation in engineering and recruiting future engineers is the pervasive lack of understanding or even misunderstanding of what engineering is and what engineers do. The challenges to broadening participation in engineering are further complicated as underrepresented groups often report constructs, such as cultural milieu and outcome expectations, as more important than interest in influencing career choices. Addressing such issues is difficult and single exposure interventions are unlikely to make engineering careers seem more relevant or attainable for most students. More sustainable interventions, designed to (1) challenge misperceptions and create relevant conceptions of engineering; (2) maintain and expand situational interest; and, (3) integrate with individual interests, values, and social identities, appear to hold more promise for creating significant change.
As a possible means of developing more sustainable interventions, our ITEST project partners researchers, teachers, and local industry representatives in creating a series (approximately 6 across an academic year) of engineering-related learning activities for middle school children in three school systems in or near rural Appalachia. Across the first year of implementation, we involved nine teachers, six people working at three different companies and more than 500 students with a series of activities in each classroom. To examine the impact of our project, we are using mixed methods, including interviews, surveys, classroom observations, and classroom artifacts gathered from multiple project stakeholders, to answer the following research questions:
RQ 1: How do participants conceptualize engineering careers? How and why do such perceptions shift throughout the project?
RQ 2: What elements of the targeted intervention affect student motivation towards engineering careers specifically with regard to developing competencies and ability beliefs regarding engineering?
RQ 3: How can strategic collaboration between K12 and industry promote a shift in teacher’s conceptions of engineers and increased self-efficacy in building and delivering engineering curriculum?
RQ 4: How do stakeholder characteristics, perceptions, and dynamics affect the likelihood of sustainability in strategic collaborations between K12 and industry stakeholders? How do prevailing institutional and collaborative conditions mediate sustainability?
Our findings to date offer insights across all research questions and have important implications for stakeholders hoping to raise awareness of engineering among youth, particularly in rural areas.
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