The impact of pre-visit connectedness training for STEM role models visiting formal STEM classrooms
Kobilka, Sara Skellenger
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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), is a popular topic in education and workforce development. Middle and high school Formal Educators often seek to increase their students' interest in STEM topics and potential STEM careers. Role models may be brought in for a visit to assist with this effort but are unlikely to have an impact if they cannot quickly form a personal connection with students during their time in the classroom. While some STEM professionals may have experience and training regarding communication in their particular field, they often do not have any training to help them successfully relate to students. For this research project, an interactive one-hour online training module was designed for role models which focused on best practices for engaging and connecting with students. To measure the impact of the training, students were given pre- and post-visit surveys which gauged their attitude regarding three factors: normality of STEM professionals (i.e., STEM professionals are normal people with normal interests and habits), leisure interest in STEM and career interest in STEM professions. The STEM area the role model represented (i.e., technology for the computer programmer and engineering for the electrical engineer) was specifically targeted in the version of the attitude survey given. Change in attitude was calculated and analyzed for statistical significance. While there were no statistically significant increases in student attitude, one statistically significant decrease was measured, which indicates role models who do not connect with students may, unfortunately, negatively impact students' attitudes towards and interest in STEM. Correlation between change in student attitudes and connection with the role model, C-score, was calculated for each role model, and slight to moderate positive values were found for almost all attitude factors. This implies that, in general, the more a role model is able to connect with a student, the greater the positive change in attitude towards STEM topics the student will experience. Strong correlation, Pearson's r=0.83, between the role model's C-Score and their level of adherence to the required and strongly recommended elements from the online training indicates that training was well designed and addressed the most critical elements for connecting with students during a single, one- to two-hour classroom visit.