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Abstract

Beyond Blackboards is an inquiry-centered, after-school program designed to enhance middle school students’ engagement with engineering through design-based experiences focused on the 21st Century Engineering Challenges. Set within a predominantly lowincome, majority-minority community, our study aims to investigate the impact of Beyond Blackboards on students’ interest in and understanding of engineering, as well as their ability to align their educational and career plans. We compare participants’ and nonparticipants’ questionnaire responses before the implementation and at the end of the program’s first academic year. Statistically significant findings indicate a school-wide increase in students’ interest in engineering careers, supporting a shift in school culture. However, only program participants showed increased enjoyment of design-based strategies, understanding of what engineers do, and awareness of the steps for preparing for an engineering career. These quantitative findings are supported by qualitative evidence from participant focus groups highlighting the importance of mentors in shaping students’ awareness of opportunities within engineering.

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