Industry-Situated STEM Labs: A Case Study of a Novel Application
thesisposted on 18.12.2020, 19:59 by William H Walls
Abstract: The purpose of this research was to understand: (1) the influence that an industry-situated STEM lab experience has on students’ (ages 10-18) perceptions of careers in manufacturing, and (2) the challenges and opportunities that this space presents. To answer these questions, this study analyzed participant pre- and post-draw a manufacturer tests as well as manufacturing career perception surveys that included Likert-scale items and open response questions. Along with these data sources, five semi-structured interviews were conducted with industry stakeholders in order to understand the conception and operation of the STEM lab, as well identify any challenges or opportunities to improve or replicate success for other industries. From there, the data were analyzed through thematic coding for the drawings, open-response questions, and interviews, and a Mann-Whitney U test was performed on the survey results in order to look for general shifts in responses to specific questions from before to after the STEM lab experience. The results gained from the three different data collection techniques were looked at in aggregate and used to triangulate specific understandings, questions, and recommendations. The results confirmed a lack of students’ awareness and understanding of manufacturing, misperceptions surrounding the careers within, and a disconnect between industry needs and educational output. Along with the data, literature on vocational psychology supports the need for students to participate in authentic learning opportunities to build self-efficacy and form more accurate outcome expectations with regards to future career selection. However, the data did reveal that the industry-situated STEM lab experience likely led the participants to an improved understanding of the manufacturing ecosystem and provided an opportunity for local educators to engage with industry. While this research looked at a novel application of a STEM lab and highlighted its influence on students’ perceptions of manufacturing careers, there is obviously no “silver bullet” for fixing the talent pipeline for manufacturing and continuous work in this area needs to be done.