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Re-Engineering the “Leaky Pipeline” Metaphor: Diversifying the Pool by Teaching STEM “by Stealth”

Theresa Petray, Tanya Doyle, Elise Howard, Rhian Morgan, Ryl Harrison


Many attempts to engage diverse audiences in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) target students already enrolled or interested in STEM subjects. This paper presents qualitative findings on the characteristics and experiences of high school girls who participated in a STEM engagement programme involving drone-flying camps in two locations in regional northern Australia. As expected, the programme attracted students with a STEM interest, yet close to half of the participants named arts and humanities as their favourite subject areas. Our research suggests that engagement activities that primarily target students who already enjoy STEM will inhibit the capacity to attract diverse engineers. Programmes engaging with girls who do not identify as the “STEM type” may broaden engineering recruitment outcomes. Moreover, reimagining STEM beyond the boundaries of the traditional “hard sciences” works to overcome stereotyping that begins early in life (Bond, 2016; Kessels, 2015). We argue that the “pipeline” metaphor is part of the problem: it implies a singular pathway into engineering that is shaped by narrow curricular concepts of STEM education. Instead, we suggest that engineering disciplines should consider recruiting from a “deep pool”—one that recognises and values the dispositions generated through engagement with creative and critical curricula.


gender equity; intersectionality; leaky pipeline; STEM engagement; drone-flying camps

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