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Expanding Your Horizons: The impact of a one-day STEM conference on middle school girls’ and parents’ attitude toward STEM careers (Massi et al. 2012)

Citation

Massi, L., Reilly, C., Johnson, D., & Castner, L. (2012). Expanding Your Horizons: The impact of a one-day STEM conference on middle school girls’ and parents’ attitude toward STEM careers. Proceedings of the 2012 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. Washington, DC: American Society for Engineering Education.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to estimate the effects of a one-day annual conference on middle school girls’ (grades 6–8) and their parents’ interest in and knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The goal of the conference, which was held at a large metropolitan, public university in central Florida, was to encourage young girls to consider STEM careers.
    • The authors administered a single questionnaire to conference attendees that asked about attendees’ knowledge of and interest in STEM before and after the conference. The survey was included in backpacks distributed at the beginning of the day, and participants were reminded to complete it at the end of the day. Of the 214 middle school girls and 103 parent attendees, 80 percent of the girls and 37 percent of the parents turned in a completed survey.
    • The authors did not conduct any statistical tests to measure changes in knowledge of and interest in STEM before and after participating in the conference.
    • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors measured pre-intervention knowledge of and interest in STEM after participation in the intervention, which may be subject to recall bias. This means we are not confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) conference, but other factors are likely to have contributed. Further, the authors did not conduct statistical analysis to measure whether observed changes in outcomes were actually significant.

Intervention Examined

The Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) Conference

Features of the Intervention

The annual EYH conference, held at the University of Central Florida (UCF), encourages young girls to consider careers in STEM. The target population for the conference is middle school girls in grades 6–8 and their parents. The authors studied the 2011 conference, which consisted of five hands-on engineering workshops and featured guest speakers who discussed STEM career paths and engineering concepts. EYH is a nationwide program that started in 1974, and the annual conference has been held at UCF since 1982.

Features of the Study

The study used a nonexperimental design that compared 172 middle school girls’ post-conference questionnaire responses about their interest in and knowledge of STEM careers after attending the conference. The questionnaire asked respondents about their attitudes toward STEM before and after the conference so that changes in attitudes could be measured using only one post-test survey. No tests for statistical significance were conducted.

Findings

    • The authors did not conduct any statistical tests to measure changes in knowledge of and interest in STEM for parents or their children before and after participating in the conference.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors attempted to compare changes in knowledge of and interest in STEM by using a single post-test survey that asked about attitudes before and after conference attendance. There are concerns about the validity of the responses for pre-program knowledge and attitudes because most conference attendees presumably completed the survey at the end of the conference and were asked to recall what their attitudes were before the conference. It is likely that the “pre-conference” measure may have been affected by the conference experience itself. Furthermore, CLEAR’s guidelines require that the authors observe outcomes for multiple periods before the intervention to rule out the possibility that participants had increasing or decreasing trends in the outcomes examined before conference attendance. We would expect that people who chose to attend a STEM conference would have high baseline attitudes to begin with, which could influence the anticipated impact of conference attendance.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors measured pre-intervention knowledge of and interest in STEM after participation in the intervention, which may be subject to recall bias. This means we are not confident that any estimated effects would be attributable to the EYH conference, but other factors are likely to have contributed. Further, the authors did not conduct statistical analysis to measure whether observed changes in outcomes were actually significant.

Reviewed by CLEAR

April 2016