Engineering Education for Rural Schools

Savage, Danny
Podhajsky, Adam
Danford-Klein, Erik
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Engineering education research suggests a need for greater awareness about engineering concepts and careers among students in rural schools. Content on engineering topics and professions exist for non-collegiate students, but remain less accessible to students in rural settings, particularly at the elementary school level. Here, we report first on the personal experiences being socialized into engineering that motivated our interest in measuring and increasing awareness about engineering among elementary school students in rural Iowa.

Second, we describe the iterative design and implementation of a daylong workshop that we carried out in collaboration with Lamoni Community Schools in Lamoni, IA. Specifically, we describe activities that we designed to measure and raise student interest in, and awareness of engineering disciplines.

Third, we report the results of our analyses comparing student willingness to participate in STEM-related extracurricular opportunities before and after activity designed to illustrate the principle of buoyancy to elementary school-age children. Here we found that post-activity means for student awareness and willingness were significantly higher than means prior to the intervention.

Finally, we report results from a qualitative analysis of data was collected via a “Draw an Engineer” activity. Our analysis suggests that rural students in third, fourth and fifth grades may hold several anachronistic stereotypes about engineers and engineering work. In contrast to the status of contemporary engineering work as an applied science involving the use of advanced technology, rural students may presume that engineers repair automobiles, do construction work, and engage in physical labor. Overall, our findings suggest that third and fourth grade students may be responsive to tailored outreach efforts designed to increase their participation in STEM disciplines. Further, our reflections following the workshop provide insight into how school faculty and administrations in rural Iowa may benefit from the involvement of undergraduate engineering students. The evidence collected works to justify the implementation of more engineering-based resources in rural settings like Lamoni. This project shows the difference that is made when students become engaged with the field of engineering in a positive manner.