The study reported on in this paper is motivated by a larger study to broaden pre-college students’ perceptions of engineering by engaging them in engineering activities that broaden the context of engineering. The goal of broadening perceptions through broad contexts is to appeal to a more diverse group of students, particularly females and underrepresented minority groups. This paper presents analysis regarding gender.
Several reports commissioned by the federal government have called for increasing the enrollment of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as less than 20 percent of women in engineering earn a bachelor’s degree (Yoder, 2015). According to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, about 14 percent of practicing engineers are women (U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, 2012). Multiple organizations and governmental agencies have invested in STEM education programs to research the gender disparity. Possible reasons that have been raised regarding low female engineering rates include misconceptions of what engineers do, lack of female role models in engineering, and a shortage of engineering experiences for girls in early education. In spite of well-intentioned initiatives in and out of the classroom, there has been small progress towards a gender shift in STEM or to indicate acceleration of female in the engineering career fields.
The work presented here shares the analysis of how students perceive engineering and then relate it to their own personal interests. For this exploration, data were collected from a summer engineering workshop conducted for approximately 175 students ages 9-14 who were all from a mid-sized Midwestern city and who all qualified for the free or reduced lunch program. Students were interview prior to engaging in the engineering activities and asked to share their personal interests (i.e., what do they do for fun, extracurricular activities, favorite school subjects) as well as what they thought engineering was. Additionally, the research team observed the students as they engaged in the engineering activities to gather further understanding of their personal interests and whether they connected them to the engineering activity. The analysis of the interview transcripts and videotaped observations led to the identification of various themes across the participants. In this paper, we chose to compare and contrast the themes with relation to gender. We compared the responses from males and females as well as looked for the gendered language embedded in both male and female responses. Future work based on this understanding may include how children describe role models in engineering and if the under representation of women in engineering affecting the view of an engineer in this age group.
U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. (2012). STEM Education: Preparing for the Jobs of the Future. Retrieved 10 12, 2016, from http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/6aaa7e1f-9586-47be-82e7-326f47658320/stem-education---preparing-for-the-jobs-of-the-future-.pdf
Yoder, B. L. (2015). Engineering By The Numbers. Retrieved from ASEE: https://www.asee.org/papers-and-publications/publications/college-profiles/15EngineeringbytheNumbersPart1.pdf
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