on. “Models and Design” includes stories about Henry Ford’s Model T, the cartoonist Rube Goldberg, and NASA’s use of simulation technology.
Gender and ethnicity play an important role in the development of a person’s self-efficacy, identity, approach to learning, and career aspirations (see, for example, Bandura et al., 1999; Maple and Stage, 1991). As noted in Chapter 2, engineers in the United States have historically been predominantly white males; and women, African Americans, and Hispanics are still significantly underrepresented in the profession. Exposing students to images of engineers who look like them and to engineering-related activities that resonate with their personal and cultural experiences may not only improve their understanding of engineering but may also make engineering more appealing as a possible career (EWEP, 2005; NAE, 2008).
Efforts have been made in several curricula to portray engineering as an interesting and accessible career for individuals from diverse backgrounds. For example, the textbook for “Engineering the Future” features 31 stories (or chapters) written by engineers, designers, architects, technologists, and technicians, almost half of them women and a third members of minority groups. Similarly, “Design and Discovery” includes vignettes that enable students to “meet engineers,” half of whom are women. Every unit in the “Engineering is Elementary” curriculum features a story about a child who uses basic engineering principles to solve a problem. The main characters in four of the nine units are female, and all of the characters come from different ethnic backgrounds. In addition, several stories include adult females as mentors and advisors.
In contrast, stories in the “Models and Designs” unit of the Full Option Science System curriculum are dominated by male inventors, scientists, engineers, and industrialists (e.g., Stephen Hawkings, Dick Covey, Rube Goldberg, Henry Ford, Eli Whitney). In addition, almost all of the photographs of people engaged in scientific and engineering pursuits are male.
Several curricula focus on topics and projects that research suggests are more likely to appeal to boys than to girls.4 For example, “A World in Motion,” “Gateway to Technology,” and “Models and Designs” include
There is an extensive literature on gender preferences related to technology and engineering (e.g., Weber and Custer, 2005) that suggests, among other things, that girls are more interested in socially relevant technologies, while boys are more interested in how technologies work, and that girls prefer collaborative work, while boys are more motivated by competition.