EPICS: Broadening the Pathway into STEM

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Hart, Mindy; Buzzanell, Patrice M.; Oakes, William Charles; Zoltowski, Carla B
Educational Methods; Engineering Education; Science and Mathematics Education
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The Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program was co-founded at Purdue University in 1995 and has since spread throughout the United States and globally with inroads into K-12 education through EPICS High. This presentation offers a synthesis of research findings and interventions gleaned from several datasets about students’ and alumni’s reported experiences with EPICS and the consequences of their participation. In particular, this presentation discusses the ways in which EPICS provides a different vantage point on the underrepresentation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Specifically, researchers have been tackling this issue of underrepresentation for decades with very little change. When examining the typical responses to STEM recruitment and retention, it seems as though the same things are being attempted with slight repackaging (e.g., a twist on a robotics competition) rather than considering the need to take a completely different approach.The solution to gender inequity in STEM isn’t simply making projects interesting to women and assuming that they’ll flood into STEM majors but creating relevant experiences. Women want to be involved in meaningful work, that is, work that matters to them individually and to their communities. From our research, we argue that framing STEM within a community and within human contexts offers the single best way to create an impact on gender equity initiatives in institutions of higher education. We argue that EPICS is a site in which the conversation has been and continues to be changed with demonstrable outcomes for STEM recruitment and retention.