Re-enJEANeering STEM Education: Math Options Summer Camp

By Dave, Vibhuti; Blasko, Dawn et al. | Journal of Technology Studies, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Re-enJEANeering STEM Education: Math Options Summer Camp


Dave, Vibhuti, Blasko, Dawn, Holliday-Darr, Kathryn, Kremer, Jennifer Trich, Edwards, Robert, Ford, Melanie, Lenhardt, Lucy, Hido, Barbara, Journal of Technology Studies


Abstract

Although the number of women majoring in engineering and engineering technology has increased in the last few decades, percentages lag behind those in other STEM disciplines. Young women often have misperceptions about the nature of engineering, and that leads to lack of interest. Engineering is often seen as men's work. They do not understand how engineers can have a positive impact on society (Hersh, 2000). Math Options Summer Camp, a program that has been conducted during the past two summers, addresses these issues. The week-long camp was designed for girls entering ninth and tenth grade when they still have time to add math and science courses to their schedules. Unlike other summer STEM initiatives, this camp focused on the use of technology: an integrated jean bag project was used to introduce campers to different areas of engineering (electrical, mechanical, and plastics) in hands-on lab-based modules. In this article the camp is described and data on campers' assessments of their experiences is provided. Workshop evaluations showed that the campers particularly enjoyed using technology in the labs and came away from the camp with a broader understanding of STEM careers.

Introduction

The demand for workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is predicted to grow twice as fast as the overall rate of growth for workers in all occupations over the next five years in the United States (National Science Board, 2008). The question is: will there be enough people qualified to meet these demands? The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that the growth of undergraduate enrollments in the STEM fields over the next five years will only attribute to half of the demand for workers (U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences NCES, 2008). It is evident that something needs to be done to encourage young adults to enter these fields in order to prevent the United States from facing a severe shortage of engineers and scientists in the near future.

One way of addressing the issue is to solve the problem of underrepresentation of women in many of the STEM fields. Table 1 shows the results of a 20-year study by the National Science Foundation (NSF, 2008). Women receiving undergraduate degrees are well represented in science, but they have a long way to go in technology, math, and engineering. Although the number of women in STEM fields is increasing overall, the numbers for math (26.8%), computer science (26.8%), and engineering (19.5%) are still woefully low. It is quite obvious that steps need to be taken to significantly increase the number of women in engineering and technology.

Many factors contribute to the lack of women in the STEM fields, particularly in engineering and technology. One factor is that some girls find the requirements for higher level math and science to be intimidating while in middle school. This may result in a loss of confidence in their ability to do well in these areas, which in turn leads to a lack of interest in pursuing engineering as a career option. Engineering, has been a male-dominant profession, and it is often viewed as a masculine profession (Hughes, 2002). Young girls often prefer to pursue a career that might result in their helping people, and they may find it difficult to see engineering in that light (Hersh, 2000). Research has also shown that girls' awareness in this matter can be increased by exposing them to successful female role models (Haemmerlie & Montgomery, 1991; Plant, Baylor, Doerr, & Rosenberg-Kima, 2009) and by demonstrating that engineering has a positive impact on society.

Colleges and universities across the nation are looking at ways to increase the supply of qualified students coming out of high schools. A variety of STEM outreach programs have been created and developed to specifically target women and other underrepresented groups. Many such programs are one day long; the focus is to introduce young women and/or other underrepresented groups in several age groups to the STEM disciplines. …

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