Engineering Outreach: Ambassador Girls Empowering Girls in the Field
The EngineerGirl Ambassadors program is designed to recognize, support, and promote high school girls who intend to give back to their community through youth outreach activities. In its second year, the program is an extension of the National Academy of Engineering’s “EngineerGirl” online community, established in 2001. EngineerGirl Ambassadors apply in the spring for acceptance to the program in the fall and attend the Society of Women in Engineers (SWE) conference with a local adult sponsor to participate in professional development. The Ambassadors program emphasizes the “Five Cs” of youth development: confidence, connection, competence, character, and caring/compassion. Trainings for the Ambassadors relate to multiple aspects of informal STEM education, including recruitment, activity selection, problem based learning, and effective questioning. Ambassadors also attend the traditional SWE events, such as keynote talks, the outreach expo, and programming centered on developing leadership qualities. High school Ambassadors develop programming, partner with community leaders such as school administrators, librarians, and nonprofit leaders to secure venues for their youth-focused activities and receive a modest sum to purchase materials for programs. The Ambassadors recruit participants with an emphasis on middle school students who are underrepresented in engineering (female students, as well as students who identify as Native American/Pacific Islander, African American/black, and LatinX/Hispanic), utilizing school and community connections to reach middle school students (e.g., asking former middle school science teachers if they can recruit in their classrooms). Upon the completion of their programs, they assist in survey data collection for the evaluation team, and a selection of participants are observed. Ambassadors are encouraged to return to the SWE conference the following year through SWE-funded awards, so they can serve as role models to newly selected Ambassadors. Program evaluation includes participant observation, survey data collection and analysis of Ambassador’s participants, interviews with Ambassadors and sponsors, and (in year two) surveys of sponsors and Ambassadors directly following the SWE conference experience. Ambassadors described increased confidence in engineering, and stronger connection to a network of like-minded young women. Results indicate youth attending outreach activities run by Ambassadors increased their interest in engineering (88%), know more about what engineers do (91%), know the engineering design process (84%), and feel increased belonging to a group interested in the field (87%). Program formative and summative evaluation uncovered multiple challenges and worked with the program director, staff, and the steering committee to address challenges, such as coordinating travel with youth participants, selecting with equity and diversity in mind, balancing innovation with “field tested” outreach programs, and coaching at a distance throughout the academic year. Challenges and successes will be addressed at length in the full paper, for example, the authors will describe the rubric development and refinement process in detail, including how changes may have supported a focus on equity in the selection process.
Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching