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Spotlight on DiscoverE

December 1, 2022

DiscoverE is a coalition providing every student with a shared STEM experience and the resources, programs, and connections to improve the understanding of engineering through a united voice and a global distribution network. DiscoverE is the backbone organization behind Engineers Week™ (established 1951), Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day™ (2001), World Engineering Day (2016, formerly known as Global Day of the Engineer), the Persist Series (2005), and the Future City Competition™ (1993). DiscoverE programs and resources have been adopted by individuals and organizations around the globe.

The Persist Series is a worldwide monthly conversation series building community to help women persevere and thrive in engineering and tech careers. How has the Persist series helped women stay and advance in these challenging fields?

To address the challenge of keeping and advancing women in the workplace, DiscoverE completed a research review (Despite the Odds: Young Women Who Persist in Engineering) to identify the factors that help women stay in the field. After this study came out, DiscoverE revamped the Global Marathon into the Persist Series to thrive and survive in the field by creating an online community that provided them a place of belonging, an opportunity to grow their social capital, and learn, nurture and lean on their support networks. In the words of one participant, “I’ve never had the chance to connect with diverse women leaders like this, sharing struggles like the rest of us but finding ways to shine in their careers. We need this.”

The theme for this year’s Persist series is “Reimagine The Possible: Conversation And Community For Women In E+T.” Dr. Paige Brown, an engineer, educator, and author of Conqueror: A Black Woman’s Guide to Conquering Challenges in the Workplace, was a Persist speaker earlier this month.  Currently the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility officer for the US Department of Labor, she talked about adversity she faced earlier in her career and the strategies she used to conquer those challenges. You can watch the webinar at: https://youtu.be/w4a9ChUcKX8

DiscoverE’s website has a section dedicated to explaining different types of engineering and engineering careers. Do students have narrow views of what an engineer does, and how do you combat that view?  

Yes, most people believe engineers sit alone doing math problems all day. This is because most students do not have many opportunities to meet an engineer, technologist, or technician. DiscoverE works with our coalition partners to encourage and train STEM volunteers to visit classrooms and after school programs to share what they do and show how engineering aligns with their values of making a difference while also making a good income. 

DiscoverE’s programs cover pre-k to the workforce. How do you make sure you’re communicating effectively with such a wide-ranging audience? 

While we cover a wide range of ages and stages of growth and understanding, we tailor our materials for each specific group. An example of this is the ability to filter DiscoverE's STEM activities based on age, topic, and engineering discipline. We also offer trainings and materials specific to different audiences and goals.  

DiscoverE has identified four key interventions that work together to build a child’s STEM identity: engineering messages to share, engineering design process, leading STEM activities, and being a role model. Why are these particular interventions essential, and what was the research process like?

We are driven by the question—How do we effectively reach students and encourage them to pursue a career in engineering? DiscoverE has either led coalition-wide initiatives or been an active partner in projects and original research that sought to understand what makes an effective intervention and apply those lessons to programming and resources.  

In 2019 DiscoverE received UEF funding to commission a comprehensive literature review exploring the question why girls choose engineering and women persist in the field (Despite the Odds: Young Women Who Persist in Engineering). Six factors were found to impact a girl’s choice of an engineering education and her ability to sustain this interest as she completed the necessary coursework. The factors are interest and attitude, attainment value, confidence, support, belonging, and identity.  

The concept of “engineering identity” first began appearing in the research literature in the mid-1990s (Beaudoin & Llis, 1995; Tonso, 1996; Lee & Taylor, 1996). As explained by Godwin and Lee (2017), engineering identity is considered a crucial indicator for educational and professional outcomes that are important in engineering education. They define identity not only as how a student sees themself but also how they are positioned by others in the world. Without a strong engineering identity young women and men will choose other careers or may decide to leave the field in college or early in their career.  

As DiscoverE dove into the research, two underlying themes surfaced: these factors apply equally to boys, girls, and students of color; and the factors are likely nurtured and encouraged by participating in out-of-school programs or taking engineering-related classes as early as upper elementary or middle school.  

There are many opportunities during a young person’s life in which interventions and programming can have a significant impact on their choices and persistence. DiscoverE believes that educational and outreach programs that employ role models armed with effective messages and culturally relevant and engaging activities where students lead the learning is the formula to developing a student’s engineering identity.

DiscoverE is building a robust center for volunteers and educators and offers a wide library of development resources. Why is it important for STEM education to develop volunteers?

Over and over again the research shows that kids need to meet engineers in order to see themselves in the field and to see how it aligns to their interests and values. It also helps to break down the off-putting stereotypes that engineers must be super geniuses who work alone in an office all day. 94% of DiscoverE educators say that meeting an engineer is important for their students, and 75% say that their students don’t have enough opportunities to meet an engineer or technical professional.  

There are hundreds of at-home and hands-on activities available through DiscoverE.org. Do you have a particular activity you’d recommend for a student starting to discover and build an interest in STEM?  

We recommend doing open ended, authentic challenges that are built around the Engineering Design Process. This approach puts kids at the center of their own learning, allows them to try different solutions, and practice using their engineering mindsets.

How can someone help support DiscoverE?

DiscoverE programs are free or very low cost and are shared around the world to reach millions of students through our organizational partners, volunteers, and educators. And they are made possible through philanthropic support. To help DiscoverE deliver on its mission to celebrate the accomplishments of engineers and to engage K-12 students in engineering and tech you can: Volunteer, share your STEM story on social media, join our coalition, or make a donation!

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