2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
Despite the known value of a diverse Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce, women and minorities continue to be under-represented in these fields. Engineering undergraduate degrees, in particular, are awarded to women engineering students in the United States and Canada at a lower rate compared to their male counterparts. For the past 20 years, less than 20% of engineering degrees have been awarded to women students, and this stubborn trend is not changing much. The outcome is worse for black and Hispanic students, who usually comprise less than 10% of engineering graduates. Research has shown that low self-confidence in learning math and science subjects starts at a young age in girls and minority students, often in the early years of elementary school, and this ultimately leads to low interest and enrolment in STEM undergraduate programs. In an attempt to combat negative stereotypes about the capabilities of girls and minorities in STEM studies, which undermine the confidence of these groups, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has instituted the Girls’ Engineering Exploration (GEE) day. This is an annual STEM outreach event for girls in the Detroit Public School (DPS) system, which is 95% black and Hispanic. GEE is an all-day event for 4th to 6th grade female DPS students. Groups of girls participate in the event with volunteer mentors who are female engineers working in local industry, thus providing the girls with role models. The groups of girls and their mentors cycle through a series of STEM activities that are meant to be engaging, and to increase their interest in STEM careers. In this work, two GEE activities recently created and presented are described in detail. The first activity is a traditional engineering exercise involving physical creation and observation of electrical circuits. The second activity is a novel exercise focused on the new discipline of autonomous vehicle design. The girls experiment with “doodle track cars”, which are inexpensive toy cars that stand in for self-driving vehicles. The toy cars are equipped with optical sensors which enable them to follow hand-drawn lines that represent the roadway. This activity allows the girls to investigate the limitations of real sensors. All of the materials for both activities are provided as educational resources, including science sheets and worksheets, such that pre-college educators can take advantage of these activities in their own classrooms and outreach events with little to no modification. Detailed information about the design and deployment of these activities is reported, including cost of materials and opportunity cost, in terms of time invested in preparing the activities for students. Furthermore, the results of student surveys from GEE, in the form of questionnaires for each activity, are analyzed and presented. The conclusion is that modern topics such as autonomous vehicles are well worth the activity development effort, as students are more engaged in these activities than in derivative exercises such as the circuits activity, which they may have been exposed to previously.
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Bastiaan, Jennifer and Bastiaan, Roger, "Increasing the Interest of Elementary School Girls in STEM Fields Through Outreach Activities" (2019). Mechanical Engineering Presentations And Conference Materials. 140.