Development of a high school engineering research program: Findings from a research experience for teachers (RET) Site

Amy E. Landis, Christian D. Schunn, Monica Christine Rothermel, Scott Shrake, Briana Niblick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

3 Scopus citations


Students' first exposure to engineering all too often occurs at the university level. Engineering is rarely taught in high school, although as professors and teachers begin to recognize this delay in instruction, high schools are beginning to introduce engineering concepts into their curricula. One program that promotes high school engineering instruction through collaboration with local universities is the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Teachers program (NSF RET). The University of Pittsburgh hosts one such site with the aim of bringing engineering design into urban high schools via real world applications. One element of the RET Site brings high school students into research laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh. This paper presents an introduction to the RET program and delves into the findings from the internship portion of the RET Site. The RET Site at the University of Pittsburgh has four main components including curriculum development for Pittsburgh area high school teachers during an intensive summer experience, teacher implementation of new engineering design units into their courses, an annual design competition where the teachers' students present their projects, and finally high school student internships within research laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh. Interns participated in research activities with the aim of developing their interest in engineering, developing their ability to perform research, and developing their engineering skills. Throughout the internship, students were given the opportunity to work with graduate students and university professors on current research projects, and they were exposed to graduate-level research activities through their participation in book discussion groups, research seminars, a research methods course, and a laboratory safety course. The students' internship culminated with a final written report and presentation during a symposium. High school student interns during the summers of 2009 and 2010 participated in two different types of internship experiences. The first experience focused on advancing the students' design that originated in their classroom experience. Students were given the opportunity to improve the designs that won them the internship from the RET design competition with guidance from graduate student mentors and professors. The second experience allowed students to advance their classroom design, but also included them in existing research activities at the University. Student creativity, interest in engineering, knowledge of engineering fields, and skill development was assessed through focus groups, evaluation of student journaling, and student surveys. Students in the different types of experiences showed different levels of engagement in research and differing perceptions related to engineering. Students from the first experience that focused on advancing their classroom project showed more resistance to change and were slower to come to creative engineering solutions. From the findings of this study, we discuss best practices and recommendations for incorporating high school students into a university laboratory setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
Event118th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Vancouver, BC, Canada
Duration: Jun 26 2011Jun 29 2011


Other118th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
CityVancouver, BC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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