skip to main content

Title: Communities Support Engineering as a College Major Choice
Broadening participation in engineering is critical given the gap between the nation’s need for engineering graduates and its production of them. Efforts to spark interest in engineering among PreK-12 students have increased substantially in recent years as a result. However, past research has demonstrated that interest is not always sufficient to help students pursue engineering majors, particularly for rural students. In many rural communities, influential adults (family, friends, teachers) are often the primary influence on career choice, while factors such as community values, lack of social and cultural capital, limited course availability, and inadequate financial resources act as potential barriers. To account for these contextual factors, this project shifts the focus from individual students to the communities to understand how key stakeholders and organizations support engineering as a major choice and addresses the following questions: RQ1. What do current undergraduate engineering students who graduated from rural high schools describe as influences on their choice to attend college and pursue engineering as a post-secondary major? RQ2. How does the college choice process differ for rural students who enrolled in a 4-year university immediately after graduating from high school and those who transferred from a 2-year institution? RQ3. How do community members describe the resources that serve as key supports as well as the barriers that hinder support in more » their community? RQ4. What strategies do community members perceive their community should implement to enhance their ability to support engineering as a potential career choice? RQ5. How are these supports transferable or adaptable by other schools? What community-level factors support or inhibit transfer and adaptation? To answer the research questions, we employed a three-phase qualitative study. Phase 1 focused on understanding the experiences and perceptions of current [University Name] students from higher-producing rural schools. Analysis of focus group and interview data with 52 students highlighted the importance of interest and support from influential adults in students’ decision to major in engineering. One key finding from this phase was the importance of community college for many of our participants. Transfer students who attended community college before enrolling at [University Name] discussed the financial influences on their decision and the benefits of higher education much more frequently than their peers. In Phase 2, we used the findings from Phase 1 to conduct interviews within the participants’ home communities. This phase helped triangulate students’ perceptions with the perceptions and practices of others, and, equally importantly, allowed us to understand the goals, attitudes, and experiences of school personnel and local community members as they work with students. Participants from the students’ home communities indicated that there were few opportunities for students to learn more about engineering careers and provided suggestions for how colleges and universities could be more involved with students from their community. Phase 3, scheduled for Spring 2020, will bring the findings from Phases 1 and 2 back to rural communities via two participatory design workshops. These workshops, designed to share our findings and foster collaborative dialogue among the participants, will enable us to explore factors that support or hinder transfer of findings and to identify policies and strategies that would enhance each community’s ability to support engineering as a potential career choice. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1734834
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10166544
Journal Name:
Zone 1 Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education
ISSN:
2332-368X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. While post-secondary enrollment rates have increased for all groups over the last 40 years, higher education enrollment, and specifically enrollment in engineering programs, continues to vary based on demographic characteristics. As a result, efforts to spark interest in engineering among PreK-12 underrepresented students have increased substantially in recent years. However, as past work has demonstrated, interest is not always sufficient to help students pursue engineering majors, particularly for rural students. In many rural communities, strong family networks, community values, and local economic drivers often play a significant role in shaping students’ career choices. To account for these contextual factors, thismore »project shifts the focus from individual students to the communities themselves to understand how key stakeholders and organizations support engineering as a major choice. Our research aims to gain a holistic understanding of the rural communities by employing three phases: 1. Focus groups and interviews with undergraduate engineering students from selected rural high schools that are known for producing high numbers of engineering majors. 2. Interviews with key individuals (e.g. teachers, guidance counselors, community leaders) and observations of activities that emerged as salient in Phase 1. 3. Participatory design workshops to share findings from the first two phases and foster creative dialogue among the rural schools and communities. The focus groups and individual interviews conducted in Phase 1 provided a rich understanding of how and why undergraduate students from rural high schools selected engineering as a college major. They also laid the foundation for the second phase of this project, which includes interviews with key members of the students' home communities and observations of programs and/or events that emerged as salient. Data collection for Phase 2 will continue through the Spring 2019 semester and our poster will present high-level insights from the interviews and observations.The findings from this phase will allow us to triangulate students’ perceptions with the perceptions and practices of others and will provide a rich understanding of the goals, attitudes, and experiences of community members who often play a key role in students’ decisions.« less
  2. his 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 engineeringmore »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. © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education« less
  3. Interest in increasing both the number and diversity of students enrolling in engineering has resulted in significant research on students’ career choice decisions. Notably, however, while general trends have emerged, many of the models that have been developed focus on majority students. But an increasing body of work on students from a variety of specific demographic groups highlight unique socio-cultural experiences that influence individuals’ career choice decisions. Most relevant to this study, literature on rural students suggests that the lack of high-level STEM courses in rural schools and a desire to stay close to home played key roles in limitingmore »students’ consideration of engineering as a potential career. However, little work has explored how rural communities support and promote engineering as a career choice for their students. Therefore, this study explored the ways in which rural communities provide support to help students make fully informed decisions about engineering as a college major. The findings presented here come from Phase 2 of a three-phase study exploring engineering career choice among rural students. Using interview and focus group data collected from current engineering students in Phase 1, Phase 2 turned to community members, including high school personnel, local industry leaders, members of local governments, and members of key community organizations (e.g., 4-H). Using interviews with 16 participants across 3 communities, we address the following question: What beliefs, experiences, and practices characterize community members or organizations who support or encourage rural students to choose engineering? The interviews explored the participants’ perceptions of their community overall, resources that helped students explore postsecondary options, barriers students faced to enrolling in postsecondary education/engineering, understanding of engineering as a field both generally and for students from that community, and ways Virginia Tech can be a better community partner and fulfill its mission as a public institution. This project aims to broaden participation in engineering by gaining a holistic understanding of the communities that effectively support engineering major choice for rural students and provide contextual methods of increasing support for students from these rural areas.« less
  4. Need/Motivation (e.g., goals, gaps in knowledge) The ESTEEM implemented a STEM building capacity project through students’ early access to a sustainable and innovative STEM Stepping Stones, called Micro-Internships (MI). The goal is to reap key benefits of a full-length internship and undergraduate research experiences in an abbreviated format, including access, success, degree completion, transfer, and recruiting and retaining more Latinx and underrepresented students into the STEM workforce. The MIs are designed with the goals to provide opportunities for students at a community college and HSI, with authentic STEM research and applied learning experiences (ALE), support for appropriate STEM pathway/career, preparationmore »and confidence to succeed in STEM and engage in summer long REUs, and with improved outcomes. The MI projects are accessible early to more students and build momentum to better overcome critical obstacles to success. The MIs are shorter, flexibly scheduled throughout the year, easily accessible, and participation in multiple MI is encouraged. ESTEEM also establishes a sustainable and collaborative model, working with partners from BSCS Science Education, for MI’s mentor, training, compliance, and building capacity, with shared values and practices to maximize the improvement of student outcomes. New Knowledge (e.g., hypothesis, research questions) Research indicates that REU/internship experiences can be particularly powerful for students from Latinx and underrepresented groups in STEM. However, those experiences are difficult to access for many HSI-community college students (85% of our students hold off-campus jobs), and lack of confidence is a barrier for a majority of our students. The gap between those who can and those who cannot is the “internship access gap.” This project is at a central California Community College (CCC) and HSI, the only affordable post-secondary option in a region serving a historically underrepresented population in STEM, including 75% Hispanic, and 87% have not completed college. MI is designed to reduce inequalities inherent in the internship paradigm by providing access to professional and research skills for those underserved students. The MI has been designed to reduce barriers by offering: shorter duration (25 contact hours); flexible timing (one week to once a week over many weeks); open access/large group; and proximal location (on-campus). MI mentors participate in week-long summer workshops and ongoing monthly community of practice with the goal of co-constructing a shared vision, engaging in conversations about pedagogy and learning, and sustaining the MI program going forward. Approach (e.g., objectives/specific aims, research methodologies, and analysis) Research Question and Methodology: We want to know: How does participation in a micro-internship affect students’ interest and confidence to pursue STEM? We used a mixed-methods design triangulating quantitative Likert-style survey data with interpretive coding of open-responses to reveal themes in students’ motivations, attitudes toward STEM, and confidence. Participants: The study sampled students enrolled either part-time or full-time at the community college. Although each MI was classified within STEM, they were open to any interested student in any major. Demographically, participants self-identified as 70% Hispanic/Latinx, 13% Mixed-Race, and 42 female. Instrument: Student surveys were developed from two previously validated instruments that examine the impact of the MI intervention on student interest in STEM careers and pursuing internships/REUs. Also, the pre- and post (every e months to assess longitudinal outcomes) -surveys included relevant open response prompts. The surveys collected students’ demographics; interest, confidence, and motivation in pursuing a career in STEM; perceived obstacles; and past experiences with internships and MIs. 171 students responded to the pre-survey at the time of submission. Outcomes (e.g., preliminary findings, accomplishments to date) Because we just finished year 1, we lack at this time longitudinal data to reveal if student confidence is maintained over time and whether or not students are more likely to (i) enroll in more internships, (ii) transfer to a four-year university, or (iii) shorten the time it takes for degree attainment. For short term outcomes, students significantly Increased their confidence to continue pursuing opportunities to develop within the STEM pipeline, including full-length internships, completing STEM degrees, and applying for jobs in STEM. For example, using a 2-tailed t-test we compared means before and after the MI experience. 15 out of 16 questions that showed improvement in scores were related to student confidence to pursue STEM or perceived enjoyment of a STEM career. Finding from the free-response questions, showed that the majority of students reported enrolling in the MI to gain knowledge and experience. After the MI, 66% of students reported having gained valuable knowledge and experience, and 35% of students spoke about gaining confidence and/or momentum to pursue STEM as a career. Broader Impacts (e.g., the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM; development of a diverse STEM workforce, enhanced infrastructure for research and education) The ESTEEM project has the potential for a transformational impact on STEM undergraduate education’s access and success for underrepresented and Latinx community college students, as well as for STEM capacity building at Hartnell College, a CCC and HSI, for students, faculty, professionals, and processes that foster research in STEM and education. Through sharing and transfer abilities of the ESTEEM model to similar institutions, the project has the potential to change the way students are served at an early and critical stage of their higher education experience at CCC, where one in every five community college student in the nation attends a CCC, over 67% of CCC students identify themselves with ethnic backgrounds that are not White, and 40 to 50% of University of California and California State University graduates in STEM started at a CCC, thus making it a key leverage point for recruiting and retaining a more diverse STEM workforce.« less
  5. There is little research or understanding of curricular differences between two- and four-year programs, career development of engineering technology (ET) students, and professional preparation for ET early career professionals [1]. Yet, ET credentials (including certificates, two-, and four-year degrees) represent over half of all engineering credentials awarded in the U.S [2]. ET professionals are important hands-on members of engineering teams who have specialized knowledge of components and engineering systems. This research study focuses on how career orientations affect engineering formation of ET students educated at two-year colleges. The theoretical framework guiding this study is Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). SCCTmore »is a theory which situates attitudes, interests, and experiences and links self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, and personal goals to educational and career decisions and outcomes [3]. Student knowledge of attitudes toward and motivation to pursue STEM and engineering education can impact academic performance and indicate future career interest and participation in the STEM workforce [4]. This knowledge may be measured through career orientations or career anchors. A career anchor is a combination of self-concept characteristics which includes talents, skills, abilities, motives, needs, attitudes, and values. Career anchors can develop over time and aid in shaping personal and career identity [6]. The purpose of this quantitative research study is to identify dimensions of career orientations and anchors at various educational stages to map to ET career pathways. The research question this study aims to answer is: For students educated in two-year college ET programs, how do the different dimensions of career orientations, at various phases of professional preparation, impact experiences and development of professional profiles and pathways? The participants (n=308) in this study represent three different groups: (1) students in engineering technology related programs from a medium rural-serving technical college (n=136), (2) students in engineering technology related programs from a large urban-serving technical college (n=52), and (3) engineering students at a medium Research 1 university who have transferred from a two-year college (n=120). All participants completed Schein’s Career Anchor Inventory [5]. This instrument contains 40 six-point Likert-scale items with eight subscales which correlate to the eight different career anchors. Additional demographic questions were also included. The data analysis includes graphical displays for data visualization and exploration, descriptive statistics for summarizing trends in the sample data, and then inferential statistics for determining statistical significance. This analysis examines career anchor results across groups by institution, major, demographics, types of educational experiences, types of work experiences, and career influences. This cross-group analysis aids in the development of profiles of values, talents, abilities, and motives to support customized career development tailored specifically for ET students. These findings contribute research to a gap in ET and two-year college engineering education research. Practical implications include use of findings to create career pathways mapped to career anchors, integration of career development tools into two-year college curricula and programs, greater support for career counselors, and creation of alternate and more diverse pathways into engineering. Words: 489 References [1] National Academy of Engineering. (2016). Engineering technology education in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. [2] The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, (IPEDS). (2014). Data on engineering technology degrees. [3] Lent, R.W., & Brown, S.B. (1996). Social cognitive approach to career development: An overivew. Career Development Quarterly, 44, 310-321. [4] Unfried, A., Faber, M., Stanhope, D.S., Wiebe, E. (2015). The development and validation of a measure of student attitudes toward science, technology, engineeirng, and math (S-STEM). Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 33(7), 622-639. [5] Schein, E. (1996). Career anchors revisited: Implications for career development in the 21st century. Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 80-88. [6] Schein, E.H., & Van Maanen, J. (2013). Career Anchors, 4th ed. San Francisco: Wiley.« less