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M-Power Tools: Using Power-Tools to Enhance STEM Self-Efficacy in Middle School-Aged Girls

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 2 Slot 4 Technical Session 3

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Rebecca Z. Kenemuth Women in Engineering Program at the University of Maryland

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Rebecca Kenemuth is the Assistant Director of Recruitment and Outreach for the Women in Engineering Program at the University of Maryland. She holds an M.A. in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Maryland and is passionate about empowering girls and women to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.

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Vincent Nguyen University of Maryland, Department of Mechanical Engineering

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Sama Sabihi Women in Engineering Program-UMD

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CoNECD Keywords: Pre-College, Gender, Engineering, Engineering Technology

During the summer of 2019, The Women in Engineering Program at the University of Maryland launched a new, week-long summer program, M-Power Tools, aimed at enhancing STEM identity and self-efficacy among middle school-aged girls by teaching them to use power tools safely and effectively to accomplish a project goal. In partnership with a faculty member from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, we developed a curriculum that included both individual and team-based projects that gave girls exposure to and lessons on using power tools. Stanley Black and Decker partially supported the effort through an in-kind donation of tools.

For the purpose of this presentation, we have defined STEM identity as “a young person coming to see both her current and possible future selves in STEM” (Kang et al., 2018). Self-efficacy is defined as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that effect their lives,” based on The Bandura (1977) study. In this context specifically, STEM self-efficacy is focused on an individuals’ perceptions of their abilities in STEM-related coursework. Research indicates that STEM identity and STEM self-efficacy impact college major and career choices, particularly in regards to science and math related professions (Pajares, 1996; Hackett and Betz, 1989; Lent et al., 1991).

This presentation will highlight the rationale for developing M-Power Tools, the goals of the program, data collected from program participants, and lessons learned.


Research indicates that grades 6-8, middle school, are a critical time for identifying career aspirations. Not only do students intentionally begin to explore career options and develop career plans, but middle school coursework sets the trajectory for future coursework in high school and beyond. Yet, data also illustrates the greatest decline in science and engineering interest among girls, in particular, in middle school. This decline is less a result of poor grades in STEM related courses and more resulting from a lack of STEM self-efficacy and diminished STEM identity (Dou et al., 2019). For this reason, it is essential to introduce girls to engineering as a potential career in middle school, if not earlier. It is equally as important to empower middle school girls to complete the necessary coursework (high-level math and science) in order to be admissible into engineering undergraduate programs.

The M-Power Tools summer program sought to accomplish both as primary goals - excite young women about careers in engineering and strengthen their STEM self-efficacy and identity to ultimately encourage enrollment in the high-level STEM coursework required for admission into collegiate engineering programs. As a secondary goal, this program aimed to teach girls the technical skills of using power tools. There is anecdotal evidence from various companies who recruit employees from the University of Maryland that technical skills, such as using power tools, have fallen by the wayside as a result of increased high school focus on coding, robotics, and the like. As a tertiary goal, the M-Power Tools summer program intentionally linked engineering to social and community service. With a significant increase in the number of women pursuing the biological and chemical sciences as a means for entering health professions (i.e. medicine and nursing), research indicates that girls and women gravitate toward careers that have a clear link with service to others. Therefore, the M-Power Tools program aimed to illustrate how engineers are vital contributors to the betterment of society and provide significant social service through the creation of a project which would positively impact sites in the local community.

After completing an individual project meant to introduce participants to power tools and teach tool safety, the 17 participants were divided into four teams (with 4-5 participants each). Teams were instructed to design and build a Little Free Library (LFL) ( for established locations near the University of Maryland campus. Four not-for-profit locations were identified prior to the start of the summer program, which included two local schools, one performing arts education center, and a small museum run through the local government. With instruction and mentorship from current college women who are majoring in engineering, teams designed and built LFLs using power tools (drills, miter saws, circular saws, nail guns, etc). At the conclusion of the week, the entire group visited each location and installed the Little Free Libraries. Each LFL was stocked with books relating to girls and women in STEM (i.e. Hidden Figures, Rosie Revere Engineer, and Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers who Changed History). This project aimed not only to teach technical skills using power tools, but to also showcase the steps of the engineering design process. Additionally, it encouraged and empowered the girls to use math in practical ways. Finally, it provided an opportunity for participants to engage with and positively impact the local community.

Participants were asked to complete a brief survey at the beginning of the week and a post-assessment about a month after the program concluded. The survey asked questions related to the following:

Demographic information (race & name of school) Previous exposure to engineering Previous experience with power tools STEM Self-Efficacy (specifically regarding math and engineering)

All 17 program participants completed the pre-survey. Eleven (11) participants completed the post-survey that was sent to them via email about a month after the program concluded. It is a limitation of study that only 11 out of 17 participants completed the post-survey. Because the assessments were anonymous, it is not possible to link individual pre- and post-tests. Therefore, at this time, it is only possible to compare aggregate data.

The presenters will briefly review aspects of the program including the reasons for its development, the process of designing the curriculum, the significance of community and corporate partnerships, and the evolution of the pre and post-assessments. Presenters will also review the risk management considerations for hosting a program that requires such significant focus on safety. Finally, presenters will share data collected and lessons learned. The audience will be encouraged to engage in discussion on the content presented and invited to share feedback, ideas, and comments.


Brief review of the literature surrounding middle school girls in relation to STEM identity and self-efficacy that inspired the development of the M-Power Tools summer program.

Overview of the M-Power Tools summer program including partnerships, schedule, curriculum, risk management.

Highlights from the data collected regarding the use of power tools and STEM identity and self-efficacy.

Lessons learned from program planning, implementation, and data collection methods.

Audience feedback, suggestions, and comments.


As a result of this presentation, participants will:

Understand the importance of engineering outreach programs for middle school-aged girls.

Be familiar with the specific details, logistics, and strategies for developing and implementing similar programs.

Recognize the impact that using power tools can have on STEM self-efficacy and STEM identity

Understand why teaching middle school girls to use power tools is a method of workforce development.

Kenemuth, R. Z., & Nguyen, V., & Sabihi, S. (2021, January), M-Power Tools: Using Power-Tools to Enhance STEM Self-Efficacy in Middle School-Aged Girls Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36107

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