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Board 272: Engineering Pathways for Appalachian Youth: Design Principles and Long-term Impacts of School-Industry Partnerships

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Malle R Schilling Virginia Tech

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Malle R. Schilling is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Engineering Education and a Masters Student in Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. Malle holds a Bachelor’s of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Dayton. Malle is also a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) and is exploring how to recognize students’ assets in rural, K-12 engineering education contexts. Malle’s other research interests include issues of spatial justice and education, asset-based pedagogy, broadening participation, and engineering identity.

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Jacob R Grohs Virginia Tech

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Jacob Grohs is an Assistant Professor in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech with Affiliate Faculty status in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics and the Learning Sciences and Technologies at Virginia Tech. He holds degrees in Engineering Mechanics (

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Broadening participation in the skilled technical workforce is a national priority given strong evidence of growing critical vacancies in engineering coupled with the urgent need for this workforce to better reflect the rich diversity of the nation. Scholars and activists often call for increased focus on education access, quality, and workforce development among rural Appalachian communities, noting that students from these communities are under-represented in higher education generally, and engineering careers specifically. Investing in preK-12 education, engaging youth as valued members of their communities, and cultivating workforce opportunities such as in advanced manufacturing have all been highlighted by the Appalachian Regional Commission as vital to strengthening economic resilience.

However, scaffolding engineering and technical career pathways for Appalachian youth at scale in the context of broader systemic issues is challenging. Past research on the career choices of Appalachian youth show that sparked interest alone was not sufficient to consider engineering careers. Research on the sustained development of interest in engineering highlights rich networks of formal and informal experiences as catalysts or supportive infrastructure. Yet, access to such opportunities varies greatly. School systems often lack the necessary personnel, money, or space to offer these experiences, and, even if opportunities are available, often only a small subset of students may be able to participate. Further, common views of what engineering work is and who can do it are narrow, biased, and exclusive.

This CAREER project has focused on three areas of research. The first area, focused on school-industry partnerships through COVID-19 in the region, highlighted the importance of rich partnerships, resilient stakeholders, and innovative contexts to persist throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly pertinent to partnerships and collaboration, sustainability of these collaborations, and programming in the context of STEM skilled technical workforce development programs in rural places. The second area of research, focused on developing a conceptual framework for engineering education research and engagement in rural places, highlighted the importance of place, individual student and community assets, and leveraging these things to provide context and meaning in a decontextualized K-12 curriculum. Finally, the third research area, focused on systematically reviewing literature related to the assessment of systems thinking in K-12 education, highlighted the lack of comprehensive assessment tools that can apply across many educational disciplines but particularly in areas as it relates to socio-technical problems. Together, these three research areas ultimately seek to inform broader aspects of K-12 education, such as career and technical education, issues related to rural education, and ultimately focusing on students’ ability to handle complex problems in their communities or other contexts with systems thinking.

Schilling, M. R., & Grohs, J. R. (2023, June), Board 272: Engineering Pathways for Appalachian Youth: Design Principles and Long-term Impacts of School-Industry Partnerships Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--42822

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