Captivating Kids About Engineering Drives New STEM Scholarship, Earns NSF Grant

September 21, 2015Bill Schmitt

How can engineering exprience for families with young children spark interest and understanding in engineering for traditionally underrepresented youth? A research study aimed at exploring that question has received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Led in part by Institute for Educational Initiatives Fellow Gina Navoa Svarovsky, the "Head Start on Engineering" project will investigate strategies to cultivate engineering interest among families with young children at informal locations such as museums and the home.

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“Studies have shown that, particularly for women and people of color in engineering, parents play a tremendous role in occupational choice,” Svarovsky said. “Understanding how early experiences involving both parents and children can contribute to developing interest in engineering—and in STEM fields more broadly—can potentially help us reduce the persistent underrepresentation of these groups in STEM careers.”

Svarovsky, who holds a joint appointment as faculty in the Institute’s Notre Dame Center for STEM Education and the College of Engineering, will advise on the structure and content of the engineering activities intended for families and contribute to the overall research design and data analysis during the project. This work builds upon her earlier research—exploring mother-daughter and father-daughter interactions during engineering activities within a museum setting—to identify productive strategies for promoting engineering talk and action.

The Head Start on Engineering Project is a collaboration between the Notre Dame Center for STEM Education, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Mt. Hood Head Start program in Portland, OR, and the Institute for Learning Innovation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of lifelong learning for all communities. The study will test an innovative, theoretical model of early childhood interest development in line with an effort to design multiple pathways of broader access to, and engagement in, learning about the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.# #  #