Project Profile

Role Models in Elementary Engineering Education


The Role Models in Engineering Education project (Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and Indiana University) will improve the impact of engineering outreach programs through research and tool development. 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 project will generate and share knowledge of female elementary students' selection of role models in a university-based engineering outreach program. Specifically, it will increase understanding of the ways in which girls identify and select engineering role models and it will contribute to understanding how role models promote interest in engineering careers by girls. This project will inform best practices in engineering outreach, and help university outreach leaders develop more effective educational interventions for female elementary students. Ultimately, this research aims to increase the number of girls and women studying engineering and working as engineers. Increasing the number of girls and women interested in engineering increases educational and economic equity for women and increases the pool of skilled engineers, thereby improving technology development in the nation. This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).

The Role Models in Engineering Education project goals are to advance the understanding of the mechanisms by which female elementary students identify engineering role models and to develop resources to support effective role model-student interactions that can be used by any university-based engineering outreach program. The intervention model draws on the stereotype inoculation model, role model theory, and design-based research practices. Over three years, the project will study 160 elementary students and 96 undergraduate engineering students in an established engineering outreach program, and will focus on positioning the undergraduates as emulable role models by making their engineering identities evident and by building supportive relationships between the undergraduates and the elementary students. The project will utilize in-depth qualitative analysis of the interactions between role models and students, complemented with quantitative tools to evaluate identity and career awareness. This research will inform an iterative process of designing resources and training to prepare role models in engineering and optimize their interactions with elementary students. This project aims to increase understanding of how girls take up engineering role models and to develop effective role model training. By adding to knowledge of engineering role model identification and uptake, this research may help outreach providers spark and sustain more girls' interest in engineering study and engineering careers.


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Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
1657519, 1657509
Project Duration
2017 - 2023
Indiana State University, .
Tufts Univeristy, .
Project Work State
Project Status