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SISTEM: Increasing High School Students’ Engineering Career Awareness (Evaluation, Diversity)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Informal Engineering Education with Secondary Students

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors

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Schetema Nealy University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Erica J. Marti University of Nevada, Las Vegas Orcid 16x16

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Erica Marti completed her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). She holds a Master of Science in Engineering and Master of Education from UNLV and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to graduate studies, Erica joined Teach for America and taught high school chemistry in Las Vegas. While her primary research involves water and wastewater, she has strong interests in engineering education research, teacher professional development, and secondary STEM education.

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Student Interactions with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (SISTEM) is a program designed to make high school students aware of the variety of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Furthermore, the SISTEM program sought to increase excitement and interest in STEM fields. Four sessions of SISTEM were conducted in 2016-2018 with over 130 high school student participants (grades 9-12) from multiple schools in a metropolitan area. Over 50% were from underrepresented minorities in STEM and 78% of participants were female. Each session consisted of two STEM presentations held one evening a week for five weeks, which amounted to the same group of 30-40 students hearing about ten STEM careers. Professionals in various STEM fields presented about their career, as well as their educational and life journey. The STEM professionals who presented were specifically asked to talk about obstacles they faced in their education and career paths, and how they persisted despite these challenges. In addition, most of the professionals included a hands-on activity to engage the students in an aspect of that STEM career. The STEM career sessions were supplemented with short presentations about college resources, information on research opportunities, and a tour of research laboratories.

Participants completed pre- and post-surveys on STEM interest and career awareness. The post-survey also included questions about the speakers and program logistics. Participants had high interest levels in STEM before participating in the program. The highest increases in participant knowledge after SISTEM were in gaining exposure to STEM professionals and increasing pre-employment skills related to STEM careers.

In addition to the program evaluation, some students opted to participate in a research study on grit and learning mindset, which are associated with successful students. Past research has shown that grit scores are good predictors of grade point average, performance, and achievement. Similarly, a student’s learning belief – growth or fixed mindset – has been shown to correlate to academic achievement. The authors were interested to see if either grit or learning mindset could be changed in a short period of time within an informal learning situation (i.e., SISTEM). For the research study, students answered the same set of questions before and after SISTEM. The survey combined previously developed instruments for grit. After checking data for internal consistency, the data were analyzed using paired t-tests and multivariate analysis. Findings include a statistically significant increase in grit for female participants, yet no statistically significant change in the learning mindset of the participants.

Nealy, S., & Marti, E. J. (2019, June), SISTEM: Increasing High School Students’ Engineering Career Awareness (Evaluation, Diversity) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33268

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