Through this study, we examine the gatekeepers that influence Virginia high school students’ decision to pursue engineering degrees. Gatekeepers are defined as systemic elements that intersect and interact with students’ high school careers. Examples include teachers, school counselors, principals, school location and neighborhood. In this analysis, we focus specifically on the perspectives of teachers and school counselors. This analysis is part of a larger explanatory mixed-method project that leverages a state-wide longitudinal data set of high school students with interviews at specific case sites to understand macroscopically and microscopically what and how the gatekeepers influence students’ decision-making process to major in engineering. The goal of the overarching project is understanding the systemic structures that can affect students’ decision in majoring in engineering, particularly groups that are underrepresented in the engineering population.
The purpose of this qualitative study is to, using Eccles’ Expectancy-Value Theory as a theoretical lens, examine the teachers and counselors’ beliefs about engineering. Thus, our research questions are: 1) What are the beliefs about engineering of teachers and school counselors in a high school in Virginia? And 2) What are the preliminary observations on the similarities and differences of those beliefs about engineering among the teachers and the school counselors? According to EVT, socializer’s (teachers and counselors) beliefs (about what engineering is) can affect their behavior (description of engineering to students), which can influence students’ self-perception and interpretation of engineering. These perceptions and interpretations, in turn, influence students’ goals, identities, and possible selves. Ultimately, resulting in subjective task values (interest, usefulness, attainment, and cost) related to choosing to major in engineering (or not).
The primary data for this analysis are interviews with teachers and counselors at a single high school within our larger data set. The selection of the case sites for the qualitative part of the overarching project was informed by the analysis of the state-wide longitudinal data set. Purposeful sampling was used to select teachers who teach math, science, engineering and other STEM-based courses and counselors who regularly interact with students. An emergent coding process was conducted to explore and extract themes and categories that answer our research questions.
Results show there are several dimensions to socializers’ perceptions of engineering, particularly beliefs regarding engineering as a field. Many perceived that engineering was a math and science based field. Some believed that engineering was a male-dominated field and believe it was important to encourage underrepresented students to major in engineering. Our findings demonstrate that as we research and recommend practices regarding engineering as a career choice, consideration for the context of people and place matters. Our findings may also provide insight on ways to “move the needle” as encouraged in the NAE report “Changing the Conversation.”
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