For K–12 engineering education to yield the benefits its supporters claim for it, access and participation will have to be broadened considerably, if only because, according to predictions, the U.S. population will shift to “majority minority” by midcentury (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). Thus ensuring that a wide range of K–12 students have an opportunity to experience engineering education will require reaching out to diverse groups and may lead, in the long run, to a more diverse technical workforce, which some have argued will be more capable of anticipating and addressing the technological needs of a diverse society and a global marketplace (Page, 2007).
Attracting girls and minority students to K–12 engineering education will require pro-active efforts by curriculum developers, teachers, providers of professional development, and supporters of these efforts. These efforts could include more effective communication about the work of engineers and how it contributes to human welfare. As part of a recent project at the National Academy of Engineering, messages for improving public understanding of engineering were developed and tested for their effectiveness and appeal to young people of all backgrounds (NAE, 2008). Tests on teens and adults, including large samples of African Americans and Hispanics, showed that the most effective messages stress the beneficial impacts of engineering on people and the environment.
RECOMMENDATION 5. Given the demographic trends in the United States and the challenges of attracting girls, African Americans, Hispanics, and some Asian subpopulations to engineering studies, K–12 engineering curricula should be developed with special attention to features which appeal to students from these underrepresented groups, and programs that promote K–12 engineering education should be strategic in their outreach to these populations. Both curriculum developers and outreach organizations should take advantage of recent market research that suggests effective ways of communicating about engineering to the public.
Many questions remain to be answered about the best way to deliver engineering education in the K–12 classroom and its potential on a variety of parameters of interest, such as science and mathematics learning, technological literacy, and student interest in engineering as a career. Despite these uncertainties, engineering is already being taught in K–12 schools scattered around the country, and, the trend appears to be upward. Given this situa-