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Burning Bridges: Considerations from a Structure-agency Perspective for Developing Inclusive Precollege Engineering Programming

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Changing How We Pursue Change

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Jacqueline Handley University of Michigan

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Jacqueline (Jacquie) Handley is a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan School of Education focusing on Science Education. Prior to her doctoral work, she studied Biomaterials Engineering, earning a B.S. from the University of Illinois and M.S. from the University of Chicago. Her research interests are in the historical and cultural nature of engineering, and how that translates into pre-college learning environments. Her current work qualitatively examines how youth narrate their engineering selves, and how they come to know and do engineering design. Her work sits predominately in “everyday” and informal spaces, though she has designed engineering design curricula for formal high school settings. Situating this work socioculturally, she aims to challenge the exclusionary history of engineering and reimagine engineering spaces truly as inclusive and diverse.

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The conversation around youth engineering work has increased in volume over the past decade. As college engineering programs struggle to attract and retain individuals who identify as BIPOC, womxn, LGBTQ+ and/or from disenfranchised socioeconomic groups (National Science Foundation, 2017), outreach efforts to attract youth from diverse backgrounds to the field have increased. Further, the advent of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS: Lead States, 2013) brought pre-college engineering more explicitly to the national consciousness (Pruitt, 2014). Although these initiatives frame engineering as a profession of choice in the contemporary world (Educate to Innovate, n.d.), the field is predominately serving the interests of white men, constraining access. If the experiences and interests of a broader slice of society were leveraged in practice, the solutions generated might more equitably serve all communities. Thus, we need reconceptualize both access to and experience in engineering education before college. To improve access to and experience in engineering, engineering educators need to develop experiences that do not replicate past exclusionary practices or perpetuate injustices (Benjamin, 2019; Gaskins, 2019). We need to sustain and support the diversity of learners’ cultural experiences and interests, thus necessitating close study of youth from cultural backgrounds and experiences not typically privileged in engineering (c.f. Nasir et al., 2014). This proposal seeks to do just that. The study is drawn from a larger qualitative study which had the goal of better understanding how youth–whose social identities are underrepresented in engineering–begin to engage in engineering work and make meaning of their experiences in an engineering program co-designed by the author and colleagues. Having collected data through interviewing and observation of seven focal youth over two years, I examine youths’ meaning making about what “engineering” is and how they discuss this in relation to themselves. I draw on structure-agency perspectives (e.g., Lewis & Moje, 2003; Varelas et al., 2015), which positions focal youth as agents shaped by, and shaping, the engineering disciplinary structures in the program. The purpose of this work is not to generalize to all youth, but to showcase patterns of experience that can ground critical theoretical understandings of engineering engagement and guide the development of future programs. The research questions guiding my study are: a. In what ways do youth engage in engineering design practices? b. In what ways do youth narrate their engineering experiences? Interrogating the structures at work in engineering, and how focal youth exercise agency amidst these structures, reveals ways youth may come to see themselves – or not – within engineering. Findings of this analysis detail how past experiences with or knowledge of techno-focused, narrow constructions of engineering shaped the ways through which youth situated their experiences. Further, findings trace how focal youth chose to walk towards - or away - from the discipline depending on, in part, how their personal construction of engineering work supported their goals. This study aims to contribute to the ongoing conversation about lack of diversity in the field of engineering and considerations for designing inclusive engineering experiences for youth.

Handley, J. (2021, July), Burning Bridges: Considerations from a Structure-agency Perspective for Developing Inclusive Precollege Engineering Programming Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36774

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