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Disciplinary Differences in Out-of-School High School Science Experiences and Influence on Students’ Engineering Choices


"Participation from a variety of students is important to the long-term growth of the engineering field. Much of the research on engineering recruitment or career choice has focused on engineering as a whole, even though engineering disciplines are varied in student participation and focus. This work examines how students' out-of-school interests and experiences in high school predict the likelihood of choosing a career in a particular engineering discipline. Out-of-school experiences offer more unstructured ways for students to meaningfully engage with science and engineering outside of the confines of the classroom. These experiences offer opportunities to spark particular science interests not included in traditional high school science curriculum. Additionally, participation in engineering for women has been historically low. For this reason, we also examined reported differences in out-of-school experiences by gender. Our findings indicate that reported out-of-school experiences increased the odds of students choosing particular engineering disciplines. Experiences traditionally stereotyped as masculine and more often reported by men, such as tinkering, increased the odds of choosing engineering disciplines with higher representation of men. However, some experiences equally reported by men and women, such as mixing chemicals or engaging with chemistry in the kitchen or talking with friends or family about science, predicted higher odds of choosing engineering disciplines with higher representation of women (chemical, biomedical, environmental). These quantitative results are a first step in understanding how out-of-school experiences are connected to the nuanced decisions of disciplinary engineering career decisions and have implications for the way engineering faculty draw on prior experience in the classrooms and for researchers on how out-of-school activities may predict students' long-term career decisions."