Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

A Social Cognitive Approach to Understanding Engineering Career Interest and Expectations among Underrepresented Students in School-Based Clubs

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

A Social Cognitive Approach to Understanding Engineering Career Interest and Expectations among Underrepresented Students in School-Based Clubs

Article excerpt

The demand for qualified science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals is high and increasing, but the nation's ability to supply individuals for these positions is at risk if currently underrepresented populations are not engaged in these fields (NACME, 2014). Calls to improve K-12 education in the STEM subjects have come from multiple national groups and agencies including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academies, the National Science Board, and the U.S. Department of Education (AAAS, 1993; NAS, NAE, & IOM, 2007; NSB, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 2008). As a consequence, state departments of public education are beginning to consider the inclusion of engineering and technology in their curricular standards.

Educational outreach to K-12 students has become an important component of STEM education in the United States, with the aim to support national efforts to increase the participation of underrepresented and underserved groups in STEM fields, based on gender, ethnicity, income, and geography, among other factors. Most STEM-related afterschool programs are designed to trigger and maintain situational interest through engaging hands-on activities, which are critical first steps in the development of STEM interest (Hidi & Renninger, 2006); and many activities are specifically targeted to students from underrepresented groups. Science clubs in traditional fields (such as biology, chemistry, and physics) have been common in school settings for decades, and they are generally viewed as effective for generating student interest and enthusiasm for the subject matter (e.g., Ben-Nun & Yarden, 2009; Gmurczyk & Collins, 2010). These types of clubs can be led by teacher experts given their preparation and experience, and they can be easily linked to the formal curriculum offered in schools. In recent studies of the effects of participation in extracurricular STEM activities and clubs, researchers have found positive relationships between participation and interest in STEM careers in college (Dabney et al., 2012), and further, that higher "dosage" of STEM opportunities in afterschool programs (i.e., more time) is associated with higher science test scores and higher reported interest in science (Noam, Robertson, Papazian, & Guhn, 2014). In a large interview study of science graduate students, the majority reported their interest began before middle school, and women were more likely than men to indicate their interest was piqued by school-related activities (Maltese & Tai, 2010). In turn, longitudinal national data have shown that odds of completing a degree in STEM are significantly increased by expressed interest in a science career in grades 8 and 10, rather than by high school science achievement (Maltese &Tai, 2011).Taken together, this body of research suggests that science club and afterschool participation leads to increased science interest, which increases the odds of STEM degree completion

In contrast to what is known about science interest, research indicates that pre-college students have a limited understanding of who can be an engineer (men) and what engineering work entails (making) (e.g., Fralick, Kearn, Thompson, & Lyons, 2009). Engineering education has traditionally been seen as beginning in college, and the idea of K-12 engineering education has only evolved more recently (Katehi, Pearson, & Feder, 2009), with the development of specialized curriculum (e.g., Project Lead the Way) and engineering-focused magnet schools in large urban centers (e.g., Charlotte, Dallas, Hartford). Accordingly, school-based clubs and activities in engineering have been less commonly available to students. University researchers on the frontiers of these fields are the ideal partners for teachers to introduce students to emerging fields and career opportunities of the future. In this study, we examine an underserved middle and high school sample participating in engineering clubs, and use a social cognitive framework to understand engineering interest and expected attainment among these students. …

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