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Empathy-Driven Engineering Internships for Teens: Designing for Accessibility

Centered around principles of universal design, designing for accessibility, and engineering with empathy, the Build a Better Book Teen Internship program examines how teen interns’ perceptions of engineering and self-identities as engineers are formed and cultivated as they design and create more accessible products for authentic community clients who are blind or have low vision. Many teens have a limited understanding of what engineering is and what engineers do, and often their perceptions do not align with their interests and strengths. This project aims to impact teens’ perceptions of engineering, their engineering identities, and their confidence and competence in engineering and 21st century workplace skills. Using a design-based research approach, the internship model is being tested at four sites around the country, including a school, public library, university, and science museum. Data collected from each site include pre-/post-surveys and audio/video reflections, interviews with site leaders, a culminating focus group discussion, and artifacts created through the program (i.e., products designed for community clients). Early findings suggest positive changes across sites, including broader perceptions of engineering and shifts in engineering identity, increased confidence and competency in technical skills, and gains related to 21st century workplace skills, such as communication and collaboration.

Pillar 1: Innovative Use of Technologies in Learning and Teaching

Build a Better Book Teen Interns use a variety of maker tools and technologies–including 3D printers, laser cutters, electronics, sound boards, and computer programming–to create accessible products that meet an authentic community need. Interns are challenged to creatively use these technologies to expand access to information, specifically for those with visual impairments. The internship provides training and mentorship to develop teens’ technical skills, and emphasizes an iterative engineering design process.

Pillar 2: Partnerships for Career and Workforce Preparation.

Across sites, the BBB Teen Internship program aims to expose teens to career opportunities in engineering while developing their 21st century workplace skills. Internships provide pay or school credit; youth apply, have set hours and job expectations, collaborate in teams, and are held accountable for deliverables. Throughout the internship, teens participate in relevant tours, campus visits, and virtual and/or in-person meetings with STEM professionals, to expand their awareness of engineering career pathways.

Pillar 3: Strategies for Equity in STEM Education

With its focus on broadening participation in engineering and expanding accessibility for people with disabilities, particularly those who are blind or have low vision, equity is at the core of the Build a Better Book Teen Internship program. The program supports youth from groups underrepresented in engineering, including girls and students of color, by providing paid internship positions and connecting them with STEM mentors. Community clients provide feedback and help guide interns throughout the design process.
Two teen interns work together using a laptop and an arduino board to program LEDs to light up in a specific pattern. In the background, other teen interns work on their projects.
Target Gradespan(s)
High school (9-12)
Target Participant(s)
Youth / students
Girls (or women)
Black/African American participants
Hispanic/Latino participants
Students eligible for free lunch or reduced-price lunch
Participants with disabilities
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Informal Education
Developing and Testing Innovations (DTI)
Research Study



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