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Informal Pathways to Engineering: Interim Findings from a Longitudinal Study

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.962.1 - 26.962.12



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Paper Authors


Christine Andrews Paulsen Concord Evaluation Group

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Christine Andrews Paulsen is founder of Concord Evaluation Group (CEG) in Massachusetts. Dr. Paulsen holds a Ph.D. in education research, evaluation, and measurement from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been conducting evaluation research since 1990 and, prior to CEG, worked for the Institute for Social Analysis and the American Institutes for Research. Dr. Paulsen routinely directs evaluations of STEM-related projects in informal settings, focusing on learners as well as practitioners. Her main research interest lies in evaluating programs that hold the promise of enhancing the lives of traditionally underserved populations (children, parents, and communities).

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Monica E Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Monica E. Cardella is the Director of the INSPIRE Institute for Pre-College Engineering Education and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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Tamecia R. Jones Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Tamecia Jones is currently a doctoral student in the Engineering Education department at Purdue University with a research focus on K-12 engineering education, assessment, and informal and formal learning environments. She is a graduate of Johns Hopkins and Stanford University. Originally trained as a biomedical engineer, she spent years in the middle school classroom, teaching math and science, and consulting with nonprofits, museums, and summer programs.

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Marisa Wolsky WGBH Educational Foundation

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Marisa Wolsky is an Executive Producer at WGBH Educational Foundation with over 20 years of experience turning STEM content into entertaining and educational media for kids. Ms. Wolsky is the PI and Executive Producer for the NSF-funded environmental science series PLUM LANDING, a PBS KIDS digital project that uses animated webisodes, online games, hands-on science activities, and live-action videos—plus a curious alien named Plum—to connect 6- to 9-year olds to nature, teach them about ecosystems, and get them pumped up about their role as caretakers of the planet. She is also Executive Producer and PI of the NSF-funded series Design Squad—for which she oversees all aspects of the production, translating its engineering content into entertaining across many platforms—and PEEP and the Big Wide World, responsible for managing its production and working closely with the series’ advisors to oversee the implementation of PEEP’s educationally rich preschool science curriculum. Prior to this, she worked on the development and production of many children’s series, including Long Ago & Far Away, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, Arthur, and ZOOM.

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Informal Pathways to Engineering: Interim Findings  This study, based on social cognitive career theory, seeks to investigate the effect of informal, out­of­school activities, as well as other factors (self­efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal interests, and intrapersonal factors) on students’ interest in engineering and decisions to engage in engineering­related activities.   The study uses a longitudinal design in which children, parents, and educators (classroom teachers, school principals, and informal educators) are interviewed and surveyed over a period of three years (corresponding with the middle school years). Thirty families from Massachusetts and 30 families from Indiana were enrolled in the study in Year 1. Due to attrition, 40 families are currently enrolled across both sites.  Children were enrolled in the study if their parents indicated that their children were interested in engineering­related activities (instead of “engineering” we used the phrase “designing, creating, or building”). For example, 100% of the sample had played with engineering­related toys (such as Legos, K’NEX, robots); 85% of the sample had watched a TV show, webisode or DVD related to designing, creating, or building; and 75% had previously built something, not in school. At the start of the study, most children (80%) reported that they knew what engineering was or had heard of it and the same proportion agreed or strongly agreed that “engineering is cool.” Upon enrollment in the study, 21 children (35%) reported that they would like to be an engineer someday.   This paper will explore the intrapersonal, psychosocial, and external factors that may have played a role in children’s interest in engineering activities. For example, we will explore parental influence on children’s engineering interests and will examine the question of whether children who are interested in engineering have had exposure to parents or relatives with an engineering background. (Nine of the 60 children (15%) in the sample had one or more parents who was an engineer, while slightly more than half of the sample (51%) reported that they did not have any regular interaction with engineers.)   In addition, we will look at the relationship between parental engineering knowledge, engineering­related self­efficacy, and children’s interests, examining the question of whether children who are interested in engineering have parents who feel confident in their engineering­related knowledge. For example, all but one parent in the study agreed that engineering improves society, yet only slightly more than half of the parents (55%) reported that they actually knew what engineers do. One­third of parents reported that they didn’t know how to help their children learn about engineering; they didn’t know how engineering could be used to help society; and they didn’t know how engineering is different from science.   The broader significance and importance of this project will be to support the engineering field’s ability to inspire more children to pursue engineering pathways, from initial interest in engineering clubs and other extracurricular activities to choices in college majors and an ultimate career as a professional engineer. In addition, the project will help us consider how we might provide resources and education to parents to help them support their children. 

Paulsen, C. A., & Cardella, M. E., & Jones, T. R., & Wolsky, M. (2015, June), Informal Pathways to Engineering: Interim Findings from a Longitudinal Study Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24299

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