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A middle school engineering outreach program for girls yields STEM undergraduates

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Chrysanthe Demetry Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Dr. Chrysanthe Demetry is associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Morgan Teaching & Learning Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Her teaching and scholarship focuses on materials science education, use of educational technology, K-12 engineering outreach, and intercultural learning in experiential education abroad. As director of the Morgan Center at WPI since 2006, Demetry coordinates programs and services fostering excellence and innovation in teaching at WPI and supports course-based and program-level assessment of student learning outcomes.

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Suzanne Sontgerath Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Sontgerath holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and an M.Ed. from Worcester State University. She is currently the Director of Pre-collegiate Outreach Programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Sontgerath supervises K-12 STEM outreach programs at WPI including Camp Reach and several other summer and academic year programs for students and parents.

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Increasing the number of women pursuing STEM pathways is a common goal of many universities. While numerous studies and experts point toward the need to “start early” with interventions at the middle school or primary level, universities may be hesitant to offer outreach programs for young students for numerous reasons: inexperience with age-appropriate pedagogy, heightened issues of risk management, and perhaps most importantly, little evidence of benefits to the institution in a climate of limited resources. This paper reports a direct institutional benefit of a middle school outreach program for girls.

[Technological University] has offered a two-week residential engineering program for rising seventh grade girls each summer since 1997. The curriculum emphasizes the social context of engineering, project-based learning, teamwork, and connecting participants with a broad spectrum of female role models. Mentoring, communications, and activities for participants continue as they advance from seventh grade through high school. A distinctive element of [Program Name] is its quasi-experimental study of long-term program effects. Program participants are selected from the applicant pool by a lottery process, establishing two groups: girls who applied to and attended [Program Name] and girls who applied but did not attend (thus, a Control group). Previous publications have documented long-term outcomes for program cohorts compared to the Control group, including greater entry into engineering majors, and more positive and accurate perceptions of engineering.

For the current study, we cross-checked the 732 names in the [Program Name] applicant list from 1997-2010 against [Technological University] admissions records. Participants in [Program Name] applied, were accepted, and enrolled at significantly higher rates than subjects in the Control group. This finding demonstrates a direct institutional benefit and may provide assurance to other universities considering investments in middle school outreach programs for girls. We plan to extend the study by exploring the characteristics of those participants who apply to [University], including the number of “touch points” with the institution in their middle school and high school years.

Demetry, C., & Sontgerath, S. (2017, June), A middle school engineering outreach program for girls yields STEM undergraduates Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27481

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