4569 Views (as of 05/2023)
  1. Karen Miel
  2. Graduate Research Assistant
  4. Tufts University
  1. Adam Maltese
  2. http://www,adammaltese.com
  3. Associate Professor
  5. Indiana University
  1. Kelli Paul
  3. Indiana University
  1. Merredith Portsmore
  2. http://ceeo.tufts.edu/people/portsmore.htm
  3. Director
  5. Tufts University
  1. Euisuk Sung
  2. Postdoctoral Researcher
  4. Indiana University

Role Models in Elementary Engineering Education

NSF Awards: 1657509, 1657519

2019 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades K-6, Undergraduate

The Role Models in Elementary Engineering Education project aims to spark and sustain more girls’ interest in engineering study and engineering careers. The RMEE project focuses on increasing understanding of how girls take up engineering role models and on developing effective training for engineering outreach providers and potential role models.

Providing role models through outreach is widely practiced and recommended, yet little is known about how elementary students, particularly girls, choose engineering role models. Engineering interest declines as girls enter middle school, making elementary school a potentially critical developmental window for bolstering engineering aspirations. The RMEE project is generating knowledge of female elementary students' selection of role models in a university-based engineering outreach program. This project explores the ways in which girls identify and select engineering role models and the ways in which role models promote interest in engineering careers by girls. Ultimately, this research aims to increase the number of girls and women studying engineering and working as engineers.

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Discussion from the 2019 STEM for All Video Showcase (14 posts)
  • Icon for: Merredith Portsmore

    Merredith Portsmore

    May 13, 2019 | 10:00 a.m.

    Welcome All!  We're excited to share our work in studying the mechanisms and impact of engineering outreach in K-8 classrooms.  We hope this video showcase gives us an opportunity to connect with others in this space.  

    We've been wrestling with ideas about role models, mentors, and inspirations for pursuing engineering careers.

    We'd love to know:

    1)Engineering outreach programs have proliferated across the U.S.  How are you thinking about the goals of outreach in your setting? 

    2) The near-peer relationship between outreach ambassadors and K-8 students is potentially powerful.  Have you been thinking about role models and mentors?  How do we know what role they are filling?

    3) Outreach programs can have multiple goals -- career awareness, STEM content knowledge, and building skills in problem solving and analysis.   How are you negotiating these goals and tensions as you think about  (or implement) STEM outreach? 

  • Icon for: Sara Lacy

    Sara Lacy

    Senior Scientist
    May 13, 2019 | 11:59 a.m.

    Thanks for sharing your project.  The relationship between the college students and elementary students is an interesting topic. 

    Do you see the development of role models as the primary goal of your outreach program?  How do you see the relationship between that goal and  program goals such as career awareness, STEM content knowledge, and building skills in problem solving and analysis? Do you have hypotheses or initial findings about program features or goals that might help girls see a Stomper as a role model? 

  • Icon for: Merredith Portsmore

    Merredith Portsmore

    May 14, 2019 | 02:22 p.m.

    Hi Sara - We are trying to explore if being role model can be a goal for an engineering outreach program.  Many programs state it as a goal.  We hear outreach ambassadors self-identify as role models and host teachers name them as role models.  In this project, though we've been asking the students how they see them.  It's definitely complicated.  In some cases they may be character role models (good, kind, caring people) but not necessarily career role models (as our target population is young).  

    We've begin to identify some strengths of engineering ambassadors (college engineering majors) that we think outreach programs should prioritize to help position the ambassadors as influencers and to make the engineering the elementary students experience be productive in terms of learning and developing interest.  We're seeing things like positioning the STOMP fellows as coaches versus teachers as something students identify as important.  We're seeing the need to support relationship building (learning about one and other) to support elementary students seeing outreach ambassadors as people they identify with.  We're also seeing that outreach ambassadors can support much more open-ended projects that are responsive to students' interests that may promote their consideration of engineering as a career path.   

  • Icon for: Christine Cunningham

    Christine Cunningham

    preK-12 Science and Engineering Educator
    May 13, 2019 | 03:16 p.m.

    I appreciate this research—as you note in the video, more research is needed about outreach programs so I'm glad to see this study. Your study poses a number of interesting questions. I’m wondering if you could share details about the education or development of the college students who are doing outreach. What have you done in the past to support their development and thinking about their numerous roles? Is your research suggesting any educational experiences that might help them think about and engage in more “effective” role modeling behaviors?  

  • Icon for: Karen Miel

    Karen Miel

    Lead Presenter
    Graduate Research Assistant
    May 15, 2019 | 09:47 a.m.

    Hi Christine,

    The college students who facilitate the outreach (the STOMP Fellows) participate in professional development before the school year starts and weekly throughout the school year, and we utilize some of that time for role model development work. Over the past two years, we have explored different ways of engaging the STOMP Fellows in developing as potential role models. After we share information about how people choose STEM role models, we ask the STOMP Fellows to identify ways they can build connections with students. We focus on STOMP Fellows getting to know the elementary students and STOMP Fellows letting themselves be known by students.

    Our research suggests that a key component of these educational experiences is the agency of the STOMP Fellows. That is, we're noticing that the outreach facilitators are more likely to take up and enact actions that they have a hand in creating. We come in with ideas about how STOMP Fellows might build connections with students and thus develop as role models and we also respect the resources and autonomy of the STOMP Fellows, who have generated many ideas about how they can position themselves as potential role models. We have supported Fellows in creating video stories, written stories, and trading cards (similar to baseball cards or Pokemon cards) about themselves to share with participating elementary students. We have encouraged STOMP Fellows to connect elementary students' interests and studies to their own engineering studies by bringing in examples of their engineering projects. STOMP Fellows have also explored response journals, writing back and forth with students about engineering and shared interests.

  • Icon for: Kenneth Huff

    Kenneth Huff

    Teacher of Science
    May 14, 2019 | 06:04 a.m.

    Pleased to learn about how the RMEE project aims to address engineering interest in early adolescent girls. For those selected to work as role models and mentors in your program, what types of professional development experiences do they receive through your program to assist them in their work?  Can you expand on the description provided about the observation tool used to explore the interactions between elementary students and the outreach provider? How is the data from this tool used to enhance your project?  Thank you.

  • Icon for: Adam Maltese

    Adam Maltese

    Associate Professor
    May 14, 2019 | 03:40 p.m.

    Hi! I'll let our colleagues from Tufts provide more information on the university students. As for the observation tool, we will be explaining a lot more about that in the next two days. To date, we're mostly using those data to understand more clearly the enactment of what ambassadors talk about in meetings with Tufts leaders, what they tell us they're doing in their sessions and then what actually happens.    

  • Icon for: Karen Miel

    Karen Miel

    Lead Presenter
    Graduate Research Assistant
    May 15, 2019 | 11:00 a.m.

    Hi, Kenneth. I'm adding to Adam's response to address your question about the professional development available to the outreach ambassadors. All outreach ambassadors participate in professional development for a full day before the school year starts and weekly throughout the school year. These meetings include curriculum development workshops, engineering content workshops (e.g., learning LEGO robotics), and pedagogical content workshops (e.g., creating inclusive curriculum).

    For this project, we've been working with small groups of ambassadors on role model-specific ideas. We've provided information about what research suggests about STEM role model uptake and we've co-developed (with the ambassadors) strategies for positioning themselves as potential role models.

  • Icon for: Adam Maltese

    Adam Maltese

    Associate Professor
    May 14, 2019 | 03:36 p.m.

    Hello on Day Two! I am Adam Maltese (Co-PI) on the project. I wanted to give an overview of the data collection we've been doing for the project since we think some of this will be of interest to those in the research and evaluation communities. 

    In this project we are looking broadly at the types of interactions between engineering ambassadors and young students and their relation to a variety of outcomes. We are collecting a large volume of video data from the classroom sessions to understand more what these interactions look like. We are also conducting some interviews with ambassadors and students to get deeper explanations of how they think about the experiences. 

    Beyond this, we spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to measure our main outcomes of interest in students - development of engineering interest and identity, STEM career interest and awareness, and an increased understanding of engineering. We started with some existing instruments but ended up modifying all of them to come up with ones that provided richer data for our needs and target audience.

    These goals led us to create three new tools that we think will be of interest to others: a) an extensive survey to measure engineering (or STEM) interest and identity development, and career interest and awareness; b) a classroom observation app to capture elements of engineering and adult/youth interactions; and c) a making activity where students construct a "LegoEngineer" character where they draw themselves, identify key aspects of themselves that relate to engineering and then use that character as an engineer. 

    We will share more about these tools in the next few days. Please feel free to ask questions and let us know if you are interested in the possibility of using them in your program.  

  • Icon for: Karen Miel

    Karen Miel

    Lead Presenter
    Graduate Research Assistant
    May 15, 2019 | 10:42 a.m.

    Hello on Day 3!

    I'm Karen Miel, Graduate Research Assistant on this project. I'd like to share what we're learning from the elementary students who are participating in this project. Ultimately, students choose their own role models, so we are talking with students to understand why they see (or don't see) the outreach ambassadors as engineering role models. More specifically, we are looking to understand what these elementary students find appealing, attainable, and emulable about the outreach ambassadors.

    We've interviewed over 200 4th and 5th grade students to date. Consistently, students have told us that the outreach ambassadors are affirming, caring, inspiring, helpful, and knowledgeable. Additionally, many students describe the outreach ambassadors as role models. What's not yet clear is the extent to which these characteristics facilitate uptake of the ambassadors as role models for engineering. We're still unpacking how "knowledgeable about engineering", "inspiring", and "role model" might combine to position the outreach ambassadors as engineering role models.

    We're also asking students about their career aspirations. When we ask students about their interest in becoming engineers, over 80% express openness to engineering. One thing we're thinking about in this project is how this openness to engineering intersects with students' impressions of the outreach ambassadors as engineering role models.

    We'd love to hear from you! What are your experiences with elementary students' selection of role models? What are your experiences with elementary students' school and career interests?

  • Icon for: Jason Aloisio

    Jason Aloisio

    May 15, 2019 | 03:54 p.m.

    Great work! Wonderful to see the many ways that near-peer mentoring can be applied. In what ways are you trying to disentangle the roles that the mentors? And, what do you mean by different roles? teacher vs. friend vs. guide? 

  • Icon for: Kelli Paul

    Kelli Paul

    May 15, 2019 | 07:56 p.m.


    Great questions! These are ones that we have been grappling with on our research team.

    In terms of how we have been trying to disentangle the role, we have explored it by asking the undergraduate ambassadors directly about what role they feel like they play in the classroom and/or how they are positioned by the classroom teacher and how they position themselves to their students. While we often describe them as role models, many of them state that they do not feel like role models or that they do not go into the classrooms with that mindset. Most of them do not feel that they are filling the role of a teacher, despite providing instruction as it relates to the hands-on activities that they work on with the students. They often state that their role is less formal than that of a teacher. We are starting to explore what space falls between teacher and role model to try and identify what possible roles they might fill, and you mentioned some of the ones that we and our ambassadors have identified: friend, guide, co-learner, facilitator, etc. One descriptor that recently has come up is "camp counselor", as some of our ambassadors have been camp counselors previously and noted some similarities to that particular role. 

    We also have asked the students to describe the ambassadors in order to gain a better understanding of how students perceive them. As you might guess, this is tricky in that the 3rd-5th grade students often find it challenging to describe the ambassadors in terms of their "role". The students seem to recognize that the ambassadors are not teachers, but they seem to see them as falling somewhere between friend and teacher.  While it is hard for them to identify the role ambassadors play, students are able to describe their ambassadors, and find them to be knowledgeable, helpful, kind, encouraging, hard working, etc. When asked if ambassadors are role models, many students indicate that they are or could be, if the students needed one. 


  • Icon for: Euisuk Sung

    Euisuk Sung

    Postdoctoral Researcher
    May 16, 2019 | 12:44 p.m.

    Hello on Day 4! I am Euisuk Sung, a postdoctoral researcher at IU working with Tufts University on this collaborative project. In this project, we seek the mechanisms of building role models of students through our college engineering outreach program. A volume of studies has investigated the effect of engineering outreach programs, yet we do not know about the process and mechanisms of role models. We have developed various research tools to capture the mechanisms of role modeling through classroom observation app, named CLOBS (search 'CLOBS' in the Microsoft Store), interview protocols for students and college ambassadors, and classroom interventions.

    We are very sorry that we are not able to share all information and research progress here, but we will be glad to hear your comments or suggestions! Please don't hesitate to leave messages or comments if you have any. We also want to hear your research and classroom experiences that have tried to capture the moments of student-teacher (or college ambassador) interactions. When is the best time to share a personal connection with students? How do you know that your students are being influenced by you or college ambassadors?

    Thank you!

  • Icon for: Kelli Paul

    Kelli Paul

    May 17, 2019 | 11:55 a.m.

    Good morning on Day 5 of the showcase! My name is Kelli Paul, and I am a postdoctoral researcher at IU working with Tufts on this project. I have enjoyed learning about so many great projects and research focused on encouraging and supporting students at all ages in STEM. I am excited that our project can be part of the discussion!

    The various posts from our team members throughout the week have given brief glimpses into our project that seeks to examine the mechanisms of role model influence on students' interest, identity, and career aspirations in engineering and STEM. We would be happy to expand on any of these aspects of the project, so please ask for more details if you are interested (e.g., survey instrument, observation tool, ambassador training, etc.).

    The first two years of the project have focused on developing instruments and ways to capture our outcomes of interest (e.g., student survey) but also has focused on exploring what occurs in the interactions between the undergraduate ambassadors and the students (e.g., classroom observation protocol), and how (if at all) the students are starting to take up the ambassadors as role models (student survey and student and ambassador interviews). 

    As we start planning for the third year of the project, we hope to start connecting all the pieces to explore which aspects of the project are influential and for whom. Is it simply the opportunity to engage in hands-on, engineering activities, the content of the activities, the chance to work with a more knowledgeable near peer, or some combination of all of these? Are some factors more or less important to different subgroups of students? We definitely would be interested in hearing your thoughts and what you have found in your own projects! 

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.