What IS Outreach? Our Survey Has the Answers

 Courtesy of NC State College of Engineering, The Engineering Place

Courtesy of NC State College of Engineering, The Engineering Place

Outreach is one of the most public faces of engineering education. Those of us involved in engineering outreach come to know this fact by anecdote, experience, and observation. However, quantitative and qualitative data showing the defined features of engineering outreach are rarely gathered and hard to find.

"Engineering Outreach on Campus"

Last fall, we began a project called "Engineering Outreach on Campus," starting with a survey of outreach activities operated by colleges and universities. We got 109 responses from 91 institutions conducting engineering outreach. Responding institutions included universities, four-year colleges, and two-year colleges.

 Courtesy of NC State College of Engineering, The Engineering Place

Courtesy of NC State College of Engineering, The Engineering Place

The survey instrument covered outreach from stem to stern. We asked about audiences (kind and size), purposes, types of events, when and where activities took place, how many people worked on programs, what budgets looked like, and how people assessed and reported on their programs. We looked for correlations among the data, trying to find out what kinds of activities served which outreach purposes and when and how events reached which audiences. 

What Outreach Is

Full results from "Engineering Outreach on Campus" are now available.  As expected, they show that outreach is widely practiced, reaches large numbers of people in diverse audiences, and encompasses many different kinds of activities. They also show that schools bring different levels of commitment to outreach, if money is any indication. The disparities in budget levels – with the average program budget being $434,457 and the median $45,000 – show perhaps generally more tolerance than enthusiasm for the activity. Passionate, resourceful individuals are clearly fueling the engine of outreach at colleges and universities.

 

 

None of these conclusions is necessarily surprising. But it’s one thing to feel something is true, and it’s another to have the data to show it. For all that outreach has become a common activity, it is not commonly studied beyond the level of individual program activity.

 Courtesy of the USNA STEM Center

Courtesy of the USNA STEM Center

One-of-a-kind Resource

With field-wide data hard to come by, individual practitioners have trouble understanding their operations in any larger context of norms or standards. They might have trouble identifying programs comparable to their own for self-assessment or connecting with peers in the field to compare notes. "Engineering Outreach on Campus" answers this need with first-of-its-kind, comprehensive data and analysis of the outreach field as a whole.

Outreach Growing Up

 Courtesy of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Auburn University

Courtesy of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Auburn University

A long-term goal of both this survey and our work at Start Engineering in general is to promote the development of outreach as a mature, self-aware, well-connected field of activity. We see “Engineering Outreach on Campus” as helping to disseminate understanding about how people think about and practice outreach, organize their operations towards specific goals, and function within their larger, institutional contexts. A next step towards accomplishing this goal would be figuring out how to make claims for the impact or benefits of outreach on the wider field of engineering education. We would eagerly welcome progress on this front.

Meanwhile, we believe "Engineering Outreach on Campus" sheds useful, interesting light on engineering outreach. For benchmarking programs, expanding operations, or launching new outreach activities, the information in “Engineering Outreach on Campus” is uniquely comprehensive and reliable.

 

 

How Do Things Look to You?

Please take a look at our work and send us any comments or thoughts. We like to hear it if you agree, maybe even more so if you don't. And sharing word of our efforts with your friends or colleagues is much appreciated. We are also happy to share more of our data or broker connections among outreach practitioners with anyone interested.


Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at eiversen@start-engineering.com

You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEngNow.

And don’t forget to take a look at our popular K-12 engineering outreach books, Start Engineering, and Dream, Invent, Create.