Developing a role identity as an ambassador through hands-on activities

Joanna K. Garner, Michael Alley, Christine Haas, Suzanne Sontgerath, Avi Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In response to the need for a diverse, highly skilled STEM workforce that can work collaboratively and communicate effectively, colleges of engineering have developed diversityfocused recruitment, retention, and outreach efforts. Many programs have also begun to emphasize technical communication skills. A national organization that integrates these priorities is the Engineering Ambassadors Network (EAN), which trains undergraduates to raise awareness of what engineers do and how they contribute to society. Typical ambassador activities include the delivery of a presentation and a hands-on activity to middle or high school students. Currently, there are an estimated 634 EAs in the United States. For many, the ambassador role begins during a large, multi-institution workshop. Post-event surveys reveal high levels of ability, confidence, and preparedness to create and deliver outreach presentations. Post-workshop interviews reveal that the training offers a platform for role identity development. The ambassador role aligns career-related motivations, resonance with messages contained in the National Academy of Engineering's Changing the Conversation report, beliefs about the mission of the EAN, and plans for fulfilling the Network's mission. After the initial training, students' role identities reflect an integration of their undergraduate engineering student role with the new role of ambassador, with the intermediary role of an effective presenter serving as a bridge. The workshop targets the need to improve students' communication proficiency, and focuses sparingly on the hands-on activity component of ambassadorship. Consequently, little is known about whether learning to create and facilitate a classroom activity impacts what ambassadorship means to students, and how these perceptions are integrated into existing ambassadorial or professional future role components of self-perceptions, goals, beliefs and action possibilities. The present study focused on two questions. 1. For students in an ambassador role during an outreach visit, what is the purpose of the hands-on activity? 2. How do ambassadors approach the development of a hands-on activity? The case study with embedded units arose from a fiveday intensive training at a small, engineering-focused university. Training involved 30 students, and a purposefully diverse sample of 8 students was obtained. All students had recently completed the national-level workshop. Post-training interviews were conducted with 4 junior and 4 senior ambassadors and elicited a narrative about the student's experiences at both the national and local training events. Local training required students to develop both a presentation and a hands-on activity. Two researchers coded the interview transcripts. We present findings thematically to discern several outcomes: Hands-on activities are conceptualized as serving a clear instructional and motivational purpose for students; ambassadors understood that activities reinforce presentation concepts and inspire students to be interested in engineering; ambassadors engaged in iterative design processes while creating activities, and sought the assistance of a supportive facilitator when necessary. The hands-on activities are, for ambassadors, a key component of outreach visits and that the local training environment supports the development of these activities. Activities are generally aligned with ambassadors' interests and prior knowledge, as well as the presentations that they are also developing in the training context. Additional theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 24 2017
Event124th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Columbus, United States
Duration: Jun 25 2017Jun 28 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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