Woman in factory

Turret lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas, USA, 1942

Most of us have heard about self-efficacy being key to academic persistence. But have you heard about “tinkering and technical self-efficacy”? These are important aspects of self-efficacy for engineering students. Unfortunately, there are large populations of potential engineering students who lack belief in their competence in these areas. In a 1997 study of STEM students by Seymour and Hewitt, many of the female engineering students interviewed revealed they lacked confidence in labs because they had rarely tinkered with machines or other products before college. A very recent article, “Tinkering and Technical Self-Efficacy of Engineering Students at the Community College,” by Baker et al. reports the results of surveying community college students about their tinkering and technical self-efficacy. The study population, which was composed of a significant percentage of underrepresented students in STEM, scored low in both areas. These two studies focus on an aspect of self-efficacy that may be holding women and underrepresented groups back in engineering. How does this problem connect with the academic library? Many libraries are introducing makerspaces, which give students the opportunity to design and tinker. It would probably benefit many students entering a university engineering program, whether as first-years or transfers, to attend a “Tinkering Camp” in the summer before school starts. Engineering programs and libraries could collaborate to provide the variety of tools and technology needed in makerspaces to build up student confidence in the ability to tinker and arrive at technical solutions to problems. A makerspace staffed by library employees could also be a neutral, non-threatening place to explore tools and systems, before labs and grading start. Makerspaces – a tool in engineering student persistence? It just might work.

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