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Using an Embedded Researcher Approach to Explore Student Outcomes and Relationship Development during an Intensive Engineering Apprenticeship Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Division Technical Session 20

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Lori Caldwell Utah State University

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Engineering education

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Angela Minichiello P.E. Utah State University Orcid 16x16

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Angela Minichiello is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Utah State University (USU) and a registered professional mechanical engineer. Her research examines issues of access, diversity, and inclusivity in engineering education. In particular, she is interested in engineering identity, problem-solving, and the intersections of online learning and alternative pathways for adult, nontraditional, and veteran undergraduates in engineering.

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The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the emotions, outcomes, and interpersonal relationship development of high school aged students who participated in a three-week intensive engineering apprenticeship program (EAP) during the summer of 2019. This EAP introduces students to engineering by placing them in teams and asking them to build an underwater vehicle that can complete a timed obstacle course. Program mentors provide minimal lecture based instruction and focus on encouraging each team to create their own unique design. The primary purpose of the EAP is to increase student interest in engineering by improving student understanding of the engineering profession and student exposure to discipline specific mentors. This exploratory study was conducted to gain insights into how informal engineering outreach programs affect high school age students’ interest in pursuing engineering in college.

Engineering outreach programs are implemented for a variety of reasons including: (1) encouraging young students to select an engineering career, thereby building a pipeline of competent students and workers, (2) engaging community members in engineering as a way to foster positive feelings towards an institution, and (3) introducing a diverse range of young students to engineering disciplines as a way to improve diversity within the field. Methods to assess outreach programs commonly rely on self-reported measures through immediate and/or delayed self-reported surveys, short interviews, teacher and mentor interviews and surveys, and program enrollment data. While these assessment methods likely provide sufficient quantitative data to justify an outreach program to financial stakeholders, we believe that more in-depth assessment of student outcomes is needed to inform the design and development of engineering outreach programs that are culturally transformative.

In this study we examined how students participated in and built intra-team working relationships within the three week EAP using an approach informed by ethnographic research methods. Data consisted of daily reflective journal entries that were documented by a graduate student researcher embedded in a student team, as well as research notes detailing written materials produced by students and images of the underwater vehicles. In accordance with an approved IRB protocol, de-identified data were segmented, coded using in vivo codes, and then recombined during multiple successive coding passes to develop themes that describe common threads relating student experiences in the program. The findings provide insights into how students (a) engaged with the outreach program tasks, (b) developed relationships with other members of their assigned teams and program mentors, (c) worked through the engineering design process both individually and as a team, and (d) worked to achieve stated outreach program goals and outcomes.

The findings of this study are important for developing deeper understandings about how high school age students experience intensive engineering outreach programs that are designed to introduce them to real-world engineering design and development. Findings can be used to inform new approaches for assessing engineering outreach programs effectiveness.

Caldwell, L., & Minichiello, A. (2020, June), Using an Embedded Researcher Approach to Explore Student Outcomes and Relationship Development during an Intensive Engineering Apprenticeship Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35450

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