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Fundamental Research: Characterizing Underrepresented Students' Interest in Engineering Careers and Their Teachers' Beliefs about Practices

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Fundamental: K-12 Student Beliefs, Motivation, and Self Efficacy

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Svihla is an assistant professor of learning sciences at the University of New Mexico. She is particularly interested in how people find and frame problems, and how these activities relate to innovation and creativity. She applies a range of research methods to understand learning in real world, interdisciplinary and Computer-Supported Collaborative settings. She was selected as a 2014 National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Scholar.

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Despite efforts to diversify engineering, gaps persist, with few Latino/as becoming engineers. The Southwest US is an ideal place to characterize student interest development in engineering, and to relate that interest to perceptions of instructional practices. This study contributes information about teachers and their students, who are predominantly Latino/a (>90%) from some of the highest poverty schools in the US. We investigate teacher and student perceptions of connecting instruction to student interests and culture and student ownership of STEM practices (students coming up with their own ways to solve problems, posing their own questions, and developing their own conclusions). Students also provided information about the relevance of instruction for their futures, whether they had a relative/friend who was an engineer, their interest in becoming an engineer, and their ideas about an engineering lab visited by their teachers. We compared their responses to teacher responses, finding them to be similar overall. We use multiple regression to model student interest in becoming an engineer. A significant regression equation was found (F(4, 230)= 11.26, p less than .001). Students who viewed what they were learning as important to their futures, and who reported having opportunities to draw their own conclusions were significantly more likely to express interest in becoming an engineer. Qualitative analysis of open ended responses revealed that most students could describe normative differences between science and engineering, but very few envisioned an active role for themselves, were they to be in the lab their teachers visited. Our findings suggest students’ perceptions of instruction play a larger role in engineering interest development than having a close relative/friend who is an engineer or teachers connecting to their personal interests. Providing opportunities for their students to pose their own questions or design their own procedures did not predict interest development, but they do align to the kinds of skills engineers need, suggesting that teachers may need support to develop these practices further. Taken with the qualitative analysis, such opportunities can also be used to help students envision active roles for themselves. Supporting interest development but not also supporting ability development will not address persistent gaps.

Svihla, V. (2016, June), Fundamental Research: Characterizing Underrepresented Students' Interest in Engineering Careers and Their Teachers' Beliefs about Practices Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26984

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