Collaborative Research: Research Initiation: Career Education Program to Increase Engineering Identity for Students from Low-Income High Schools

Project: Research project

Project Details


STEM occupations are expected to grow in the next decade with much of the projected job growth predicted in architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) occupations. With current rates of college matriculation in engineering, the increase in engineering jobs along with the retirement of the aging engineering workforce is expected to result in a shortfall unless more young people can be recruited to fill the void. The underrepresentation of women, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students in STEM provides an opportunity for diversifying and growing engineering. Additionally, these pathways provide economic and social capital for learners. For these reasons, it is imperative that young students, particularly in middle school, become aware of and interested in careers in engineering. This research has two primary goals (1) to conduct research related to engineering identity development by studying the impact of an innovative middle school outreach program to support identity development and career pathways in engineering and architecture for students in low-income, racially diverse schools and (2) to increase the community of engineering education researchers through the mentored development of the PI in the area of engineering identity development.

This work will bring the Identity-Based Motivation framework to K-12 education outreach efforts. As such, it will provide new, evidence-based ways to support students' pathways into STEM. The study uses a multimethod approach to answer the research question: How do the combination of problem-based learning, exposure to industry role models, and career planning, focused on building industry applications, increase identity-based motivation of students from low-income households and marginalized students in pursuing STEM careers? Answering this question will inform future work developing interventions that target similar goals and will validate and expand the Identity-Based Motivation framework into pre-college education. By leveraging The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Talent Search Program, the pilot year of the intervention will be delivered to over 40 7th and 8th grade students in a pilot program and then be expanded to over 500 students in the second year of the project. This project focuses on broadening middle school students' conceptions of what it means to be an engineer by introducing students to diverse AEC role models and engaging students in the kinds of work done by engineers. There are several short- and long-term broader impacts expected to result from this grant. By expanding the understanding of the varied engineering careers and people that make up the AEC industry, middle school students can begin to see engineering identities congruent with their other identities. Identity congruence is motivating and consistent with higher academic achievement. This effort is particularly important in the low-income, racially and ethnically diverse Talent Search Program. Because middle school is a time of blossoming independence, activities to engage the student's perception of their future self as an engineer can be fruitful. The proposed activities may inspire longer-term strategic change that makes an engineering career possible for several students who may otherwise have self-selected out of this possibility. The results of this effort can affect over 500 students in the short term and thousands in the long term through the development of the Talent Search Handbook that will be distributed to counselors in the program and the larger engineering education community. Additionally, this effort develops the capacity of the PI in engineering education research.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date8/1/217/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $180,000.00


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