June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Women in Engineering
ABSTRACT: Informal learning is effective in improving learning and self-efficacy through rich alternative learning environments. The underrepresentation of minority women in engineering and technology careers necessitates that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) engage minority middle-school girls in effective learning experiences to increase their self-efficacy and persistence. However, little is known about the learning experiences of minority middle-school girls during alternative learning programs at HBCUs. Following Bandura’s self-efficacy theories and funded by the Engineering Information Foundation, a one-week science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) research experience program engaged minority middle-school girls in bio-char modified cement paste research experiences at an HBCU. Using a post-test and a self-reporting survey with open-ended questions, the purpose of this qualitative research was to gain insights into the learning experiences, self-efficacy, and persistence of the 22 girls engaged in this STEAM program. Basic thematic data analysis involved coding, categorization, comparative analysis, and descriptive statistics. Results indicated that the girls increased in knowledge, self-efficacy, and persistence. The mean post-test score was 78%. The content of STEAM presentations demonstrated that the girls learned mostly from laboratory experiences and field trips. Self-efficacy improvements were attributed to mastery experiences and positive emotional states as the maximum percentage of girls who used words related to the four Bandura self-efficacy categories were: mastery experiences (86%); emotional states (62%); vicarious experiences (59%); and verbal persuasion (36%). The broader 18 emergent themes of girls’ learning experiences included knowledge, doing, national priorities, fun, emotions, sustainability, civic responsibility, mentors, arts, soft skills, minority, and persistence. Most girls had positive learning experiences, with some transitioning from ‘difficult’ to ‘easy’ as they gained mastery experiences. A few girls expressed difficulty and discomfort with mathematics, measurements, equipment usage, and outdoor environments. The integration of arts improved learning, vicarious experiences, and emotional states. Pizza, donut, and similar decorated frisbees showed girls’ close association with food preparation which is a typically female function in family settings. The girls used skits, sketches, and a rap song during STEAM presentations. Notably, young African Americans embrace rap songs, and the girls brilliantly integrated this culturally inspired art in their presentation. Eighty-six percent (86%) of the girls committed to ‘Advance in STEAM’ and ‘Broaden Minority Participation’ actions to strengthen their persistence. One girl noted that she wanted to make herself known so that people will know that she is both a minority and a woman, which makes her able to do anything that she puts her mind to. The girls emphasized their need for more STEAM programs, summer camps, mentors, engineering courses, internships, engineering games, hard work, and women engineer networks to strengthen their persistence. Due to personal reasons attributed to learning difficulties and other preferred career interests, 14% of the girls were hesitant about engineering and technology careers. This research experience program improved the knowledge, self-efficacy and persistence of minority middle-school girls. It can be replicated successfully at other institutions, particularly at HBCUs. In the long term, effective research experiences in alternative learning environments can increase minority middle-school girls’ self-efficacy, persistence and improve minority women representation in male-dominant engineering and technology careers.
Ofori-Boadu, A. N., & Deng, D., & Stevens, C. M., & Gore, K., & Borders-Taylor, I. (2019, June), Learning Experiences and Self-efficacy of Minority Middle-School Girls during a "Bio-char Modified Cement Paste" Research Program at an HBCU Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33051
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