This report was developed by the Society of Women Engineers for the National Science Foundation. The primary focus of the report is a literature review of available research on the effectiveness of messaging on increasing interest and awareness of engineering as a desirable profession, specifically among girls in the age range of 8-13 years old (“tweens”). The report includes a sample listing of websites, videos, programs, and research that are or have been used by girls of this age to increase their interest in STEM, particularly engineering.
Efforts to increase the diversity of the engineering profession are often aimed at combatting stereotypes associated with what an engineer looks like and what an engineer does. The messages that are delivered to young people regarding engineering have historically reinforced these stereotypes, intentionally or unintentionally. This report presents a review of the literature on STEM messaging to girls in the age range of 8-13 years old (“tweens”), specifically regarding communications about engineers and engineering. The primary focus is on available research from the last 25 years and the effectiveness of messaging on increasing tween girls’ interest and awareness of engineering as a desirable profession. The report also includes a sample listing of websites, videos, programs, and research that are or have been used by girls of this age to increase their interest in STEM, particularly engineering.
The following points highlight the key findings identified through this review of available literature:
- Media exposure to engineering can have a positive impact on tween girls’ interest in engineering when they combat negative stereotypes and offer examples of female engineers with diverse interests and from diverse backgrounds. When adolescents lack direct contact with real-life STEM professionals, media images serve an important role in shaping career perceptions. Early media exposure can help tween girls become more familiar with what an engineer does and help them see themselves in such roles in the future.
- Girls are more inclined to hold humanistic values, focusing on people rather than things, and often may not see the impact that engineers can have on society. Video interviews with engineers that provide accurate information about the work they do, particularly through personal stories that girls can relate to, can positively in uence students’ interest in engineering. Messaging should emphasize the ways in which engineers help people and make a difference in the world.
- Messages should include a diverse representation of messengers or agents that promote the inclusiveness of the engineering culture. Younger agents have been found to be more relatable than older agents among tween girls, and female agents appear to be more effective at in uencing girls’ beliefs about the utility of math and science. Agents should not embody STEM stereotypes. Girls of color are particularly responsive to a diverse cast of messengers. Among Latina youth, language and cultural relevancy are important.
- Messaging strategies that combine scientific learning and social networking have been effective in engaging tween girls. Incorporating social interaction builds on how tween girls use technology in their everyday lives. Tween girls want messaging that is authentic and relatable, but also shareable.