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WIP: Common Practices in Undergraduate Engineering Outreach

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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

Liberal Education Division Technical Session Session 10

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Joanna K. Garner Old Dominion University

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Dr. Garner is the Executive Director of The Center for Educational Partnerships at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.

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Michael Alley Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Michael Alley is a professor of teaching for engineering communications at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of The Craft of Scientific Writing (Springer, 2018) and The Craft of Scientific Presentations (Springer-Verlag, 2013). He is also founder of the popular websites Writing Guidelines for Engineering and Science ( and the Assertion-Evidence Approach (

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Melissa G. Kuhn Old Dominion University

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Melissa G. Kuhn is a PhD Student in Educational Psychology and Program Evaluation at Old Dominion University. Additionally, she works at the Batten College of Engineering and Technology in educational projects and program coordination.

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Motivation and Background: This Work in Progress paper presents early findings of a project seeking to identify common practices in undergraduate engineering outreach programs. Organized outreach efforts may offer undergraduate students the opportunity to develop communication, leadership, and other professional skills [1]. Little is known about what constitutes common practice for such programs, or how programs select, train, and professionally develop the undergraduate students. Such knowledge is an important precursor if best practices are to be identified. In this study, our research questions were: (1) what similarities and differences are apparent in the foci of college of engineering outreach programs, particularly in regard to the presence of professional development for participating undergraduate students? (2) how do programs train their undergraduate students to conduct engineering outreach? and (3) how do programs assess the impact of their efforts to train undergraduate students to conduct engineering outreach?

Methods: Multiple sampling strategies were used. First, a review of literature was conducted to identify the institutional affiliations of programs included in research on engineering outreach. This review was coordinated with a search of websites of ABET accredited engineering programs. These steps yielded information about 102 ambassador-type outreach programs. To date, 40 of the largest and regionally diverse schools’ websites have been analyzed [2], [3]. The points of contact for all of the programs were also sent an invitation to complete a short survey describing the focus, composition, and core features of their program (survey 1). Thirty programs responded, and from this group, 18 attended one of two workshops or an online meeting. This group also completed a second survey (survey 2) asking about the impact on the ambassadors and their current methods of program evaluation.

Results: Website analyses revealed most frequently listed activities as tours (75%), K-12 outreach (58%), and on-campus events (58%). More than half (58%) of programs indicated that some form of training was offered to or required for ambassadors but none presented program or individual outcome data on their website. Responses to survey 1 were somewhat parallel with the website analysis in terms of the major activities of each program. Most (92%) engaged in presentations to K-12 audiences, and 96% also conducted hands-on classroom activities. The same percentage conducted tours and participated in STEM events. Fewer (50%) engaged with alumni and industry partners, and 42% reported incorporating mentoring and tutoring into their program. Programs differed in the nature and duration of the training offered to students. Some programs provided training at an initial meeting, while others required students to take a three credit course in communication. Many required attendance at weekly meetings. Approximately three quarters of the programs (77%) reported using some type of assessment, but most of these efforts were targeted towards the impact of the program on the K-12 audiences and not on the ambassadors. Only 10% of respondents identified the use of strategies for assessing the impact of ambassadorship on the undergraduate students, although survey 2 solicited anecdotal evidence for improved confidence, public speaking skills, leadership skills, and network-seeking.

Significance: To our knowledge, this survey is the first of the engineering outreach landscape that deliberately sought to identify the existence of professional development practices for participating students. Our study revealed not only common activities among programs at colleges of differing size and focus, but also a significant need to develop strategies that reveal the impact of ambassadorship on the undergraduates themselves.


[1] Garner, J.K., Alley, M., & Kaplan, A. (2016). From Undergraduates to Ambassadors: The Impact of EA Network Training. Presented at the Annual Conference and Exposition of the American Society for Engineering Education, New Orleans, LA.


[3] Yoder, B. (2016). Engineering By the Numbers. Retrieved from

Garner, J. K., & Alley, M., & Kuhn, M. G. (2019, June), WIP: Common Practices in Undergraduate Engineering Outreach Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33562

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