Date of this Version
NSF EAGER Award 1723704: Maker Fridays: Engaging Rural and Underrepresented High School Students in Pre-Engineering Design and Creativity. Final Research Report Prepared by Michelle C. Howell Smith, Ph.D. and Kirstie L. Bash, Ph.D.
The engineering field struggles to develop sufficient interest and sustained participation across underrepresented demographic groups including women and individuals from rural, Hispanic, or Native American origin. It is critical to foster interest in engineering during formative years when students are deciding career paths. Northeast Community College (Northeast) addressed the shortage of diverse students entering into engineering fields by developing a course to engage rural and underrepresented high school students in maker design and creativity and to determine best practices that attract and retain these students. The Maker Fridays pre-engineering course was part of the Fridays@Northeast program that targets high school seniors, offering them the opportunity to learn from College faculty using Northeast lab spaces and classrooms to earn college credit. Northeast augmented an existing by incorporating a maker design area at the South Sioux City and Norfolk campuses. There were three cohorts of high school students involved in the EAGER Maker project at Northeast Community College throughout its two-year duration (Fall 2018, Spring 2019, and Fall 2019). Among the three cohorts, twenty-one students were enrolled in the course with eleven students participating in the research component, resulting in a 52% participation rate.
The Maker Fridays project was designed to engage rural and underrepresented high school students in maker design and creativity and determine best practices that attract and retain these students. Through the Maker Fridays project, high school students were provided with learning activities and career exploration that will help them understand engineering while earning them college credits that will lead right into a program of study upon high school graduation. The researchers worked with the instructor to collect baseline and relevant continuing data on student background, academic preparation, engineering perceptions, career interests, course engagement, and overall student experiences. This was accomplished through a combination of student assessments, recorded class sessions reviews, and in- person class visits. The intent of the research study was to create a theoretical explanation for the development of interest in engineering careers for students from underrepresented demographic groups including women and individuals from rural, Hispanic, or Native American origin. However, the failure of Northeast to meet enrollment goals resulted in insufficient sample sizes for theoretical development. Thus, we are only able to report descriptive characteristics and general thematic findings from this study. In order to protect participants’ confidentiality, we cannot make the deidentified dataset available through the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan as originally planned. However, the tools developed for this study and related codebooks are available as appendices to this report.
There is a continued need to increase the number and diversity of students who pursue and complete engineering degrees to meet current and future national workforce needs. The Maker Fridays project will impact Northeast's rural revitalization efforts due to the significant regional workforce demand for engineers. A major emphasis of this project was the focused partnerships created by inviting college faculty, educational researchers, and industry partners to be genuine colleagues who co-create educational pathways that both excite and encourage students to consider careers in engineering. From the perspective of employers, the project engaged engineering companies in ways that are fundamentally more active than how these partners are typically engaged with higher education. This project not only informed Northeast's program, but it also benefited the students directly by highlighting the ongoing workforce needs of the region's rural employers. The Maker Fridays project was designed to dispel misconceptions and transform careers in engineering into a tangible and viable option for underrepresented students by engaging high school seniors in a college-level maker course. A student’s positive experience in science that is integrated with maker design and creativity has been found to increase enthusiasm and a belief in the ability to pursue a science career (Linder et al., 2002; Feinstein et al., 2016). The Maker Fridays project engaged rural high school students in maker design and creativity. The engineering field struggles to develop sufficient interest and sustained participation across underrepresented demographic groups including women and individuals from rural communities. Through the Maker Fridays project, high school students were provided with learning activities and career exploration that helped them understand engineering while earning college credits that will lead to an engineering program of study upon high school graduation. These experiences were offered early enough in their education to allow changes in their career path. Through activities targeted to a high school audience, the Maker Fridays project dispelled misconceptions and transformed careers in engineering into a tangible and viable option for rural students.