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Student Interest in Engineering and Other STEM Careers: School-Level, Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Urbanicity

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Choice and Persistence in Engineering Education and Careers

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1114.1 - 24.1114.27



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Paper Authors

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Alana Unfried North Carolina State University


Malinda Faber North Carolina State University

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Malinda Faber is a Research Associate on the Evaluation Team at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University. She works on an evaluation of the Golden LEAF Foundations’ K12 STEM Initiative, a scale research study on the "Students Discover" National Science Foundation Math and Science Partnership grant, an evaluation of the Golden LEAF Foundation’s Essential Skills workforce development initiative involving K12 schools and community colleges,and the evaluation of North Carolina’s Race to the Top initiative.

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Eric N. Wiebe North Carolina State University

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Dr. Wiebe is a Professor in the Department of STEM Education at NC State University and Senior Research Fellow at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. A focus of his research and outreach work has been the integration of multimedia and multimodal teaching and learning approaches in STEM instruction. He has also worked on research and evaluation of technology integration in instructional settings in both secondary and post-secondary education. Dr. Wiebe has been a member of ASEE since 1989.

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Student Attitudes toward Engineering and Interest in Engineering Careers: An Examination of Gender and Urbanicity (Research Paper)Engineering has been found to be one of the most commonly required STEM knowledge-fieldsin America, and demand for these skills is growing. In general, high levels of engineeringknowledge, skills, and attitudes are insufficient without complementary qualifications in science,technology, and math. For these reasons many K-12 education organizations are trying toenhance their STEM education programs. One set of critical outcomes for STEM educationprograms relates to overall increases in student attitudes toward STEM.In support of a 43-school-district, rural, STEM initiative (the Rural Initiative) and a single-district, urban, STEM initiative (the Urban Initiative), a survey instrument measuring studentattitudes toward science, math, engineering and technology, and 12 STEM career pathways wasdeveloped by researchers in the southeastern state where both initiatives have been implemented.The proposed paper will discuss results from the survey data collected from the Rural Initiativeand the Urban Initiative. In the rural administration the survey was completed by 8,412 sixththrough twelfth graders and 3,438 fourth and fifth graders. In the urban administration the surveywas completed by 2,198 sixth through twelfth graders and 1,107 fourth and fifth graders.Initial statistical analyses of this data set show that as student grade-levels increase, studentattitudes toward science, math, and engineering and technology decrease. Findings suggest thatmale students, at all grade-levels, have the most positive attitudes toward engineering andtechnology compared to science and math. Female students have the most positive attitudestoward engineering and technology in elementary school, after which their interest inengineering and technology drops below science and, by eighth grade, below math. Whencomparing female and male attitudes, results indicate that female students have more negativeattitudes toward engineering and technology than males at all grade-levels. Furthermore, femaleattitudes toward engineering and technology drop much more rapidly than male attitudes. Surveyfindings also suggest that male students are more interested in engineering careers than females.Male students show slightly increasing interest in engineering careers as their grade-levelincreases, while female interest in engineering careers dramatically drops.Results indicate that Rural Initiative students have slightly lower attitudes toward engineeringand technology than Urban Initiative students. The rural students also showed slightly lowerinterest in engineering as a career (except for rural, high school males). Findings suggest thatgender effects are present in both the rural and urban initiative, and that differences in attitudesand career interest vary much more by gender than by urbanicity.These results suggest, overall, that male students have quite positive attitudes toward engineeringand technology, but that female students, starting in middle school, have quite low attitudestoward engineering and technology. STEM education programs have many opportunities forgrowth particularly in regards to their female participants. The paper will include statisticalmodeling that further explores the interactions and effects of gender, grade-level, urbanicity, andrace/ethnicity on student attitudes and interest. Figure 1: Attitudes toward Engineering and Technology 4.5 Average Construct Score 4.25 4 3.75 Rural Male 3.5 Rural Female 3.25 3 Urban Male 2.75 Urban Female 2.5 Elementary Middle High School Level Figure 2: Interest in Engineer Career Pathway 80 Percent of Students 70 60 Interested 50 Rural Male 40 30 Rural Female 20 Urban Male 10 Urban Female 0 Elementary Middle High School LevelReferencesCarnevale, A. P., Smith, N. & Melton, M. (2011). STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering,Mathematics. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce: Washington, DC.National Research Council. (2011). Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying EffectiveApproaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Board on Science Educationand Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences andEducation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.PCAST, President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2010). Prepare andInspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’sFuture. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.Rothwell, J. (2013). The Hidden STEM Economy. The Metropolitan Policy Program at theBrookings Institution: Washington, DC.

Unfried, A., & Faber, M., & Wiebe, E. N. (2014, June), Student Interest in Engineering and Other STEM Careers: School-Level, Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Urbanicity Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23047

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