Informal Pathways to Engineering: Interim Findings This study, based on social cognitive career theory, seeks to investigate the effect of informal, out­of­school activities, as well as other factors (self­efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal interests, and intrapersonal factors) on students’ interest in engineering and decisions to engage in engineering­related activities. The study uses a longitudinal design in which children, parents, and educators (classroom teachers, school principals, and informal educators) are interviewed and surveyed over a period of three years (corresponding with the middle school years). Thirty families from Massachusetts and 30 families from Indiana were enrolled in the study in Year 1. Due to attrition, 40 families are currently enrolled across both sites. Children were enrolled in the study if their parents indicated that their children were interested in engineering­related activities (instead of “engineering” we used the phrase “designing, creating, or building”). For example, 100% of the sample had played with engineering­related toys (such as Legos, K’NEX, robots); 85% of the sample had watched a TV show, webisode or DVD related to designing, creating, or building; and 75% had previously built something, not in school. At the start of the study, most children (80%) reported that they knew what engineering was or had heard of it and the same proportion agreed or strongly agreed that “engineering is cool.” Upon enrollment in the study, 21 children (35%) reported that they would like to be an engineer someday. This paper will explore the intrapersonal, psychosocial, and external factors that may have played a role in children’s interest in engineering activities. For example, we will explore parental influence on children’s engineering interests and will examine the question of whether children who are interested in engineering have had exposure to parents or relatives with an engineering background. (Nine of the 60 children (15%) in the sample had one or more parents who was an engineer, while slightly more than half of the sample (51%) reported that they did not have any regular interaction with engineers.) In addition, we will look at the relationship between parental engineering knowledge, engineering­related self­efficacy, and children’s interests, examining the question of whether children who are interested in engineering have parents who feel confident in their engineering­related knowledge. For example, all but one parent in the study agreed that engineering improves society, yet only slightly more than half of the parents (55%) reported that they actually knew what engineers do. One­third of parents reported that they didn’t know how to help their children learn about engineering; they didn’t know how engineering could be used to help society; and they didn’t know how engineering is different from science. The broader significance and importance of this project will be to support the engineering field’s ability to inspire more children to pursue engineering pathways, from initial interest in engineering clubs and other extracurricular activities to choices in college majors and an ultimate career as a professional engineer. In addition, the project will help us consider how we might provide resources and education to parents to help them support their children.


ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015

Permanent URL: https://peer.asee.org/24299


Engineering education, Informal pathways, longitudinal design

Date of this Version


Published in:

Paulsen, C. A., & Cardella, M. E., & Jones, T. R., & Wolsky, M. (2015, June), Informal Pathways to Engineering: Interim Findings from a Longitudinal Study Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24299