Learning Blast: Identify as Engineers

As youth learn about engineering, you can help them see themselves as someone who can engineer solutions.

When youth engage with engineering practices to solve meaningful problems, they begin to envision themselves as engineers.

The process of becoming an engineer involves more than mastery of the skills and technical knowledge of engineering. Identity is central to this process. Engaging in the practices of engineering and seeing oneself as an engineer are part of this process.

Having a strong engineering identity is a significant indicator of success in becoming an engineer. Pursuing a career in engineering can be challenging. A strong engineering identity feeds persistence, which helps overcome challenges. Even for youth who are not interested in an engineering career, seeing oneself as a successful problem-solver can foster persistence and help in overcoming obstacles.

Engineering design challenges help youth understand what engineering is and how it is relevant to their lives. As they solve problems and generate solutions, youth see their potential as engineers and problem solvers. Educators can nurture this in many ways.

As you watch the video, think about this:

  • Notice how the facilitator presents the type of engineering the girls will be doing. How does she want them to identify with this career?
  • What strategies does the facilitator use to build the girls’ identities as engineers?
  • Who is making the design decisions in this activity?

Watch the video

Share what you noticed:

  • What did you notice in the video?
  • How does the structure of this activity help youth envision themselves as engineers?
  • What strategies for developing an engineering identity would you like to use in your programming?

What we know:

Educators support developing an engineering identity when they provide opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful, relevant engineering experiences. Throughout these experiences, educators should make connections between the work youth are doing and the work of engineers.

Referring to the work that youth are engaged in as “engineering” and the youth as “engineers” helps them identify their efforts as engineering. Similarly, as youth engage in engineering practices, these can be called out and links made between the skills youth are developing, like persist and learn from failure, and their demonstrated success and identities as engineers and problem solvers.

Actively tackling engineering challenges and collaborating with peers and others to produce engineering ideas, knowledge, and designs fosters the formation of engineering identities.

What you know:

Successful participation in authentic engineering challenges shows youth that they can engage in such work.

Having youth generate engineering goals, criteria, constraints, and then holding them accountable to these, signals to them that they can meaningfully participate in engineering thinking. Successfully persisting through failure and iteration to solve a problem shows youth they can know, think, and be engineers.

“There’s nothing I believe in more strongly than getting young people interested in science and engineering, for a better tomorrow, for all humankind.”

– Bill Nye

Key take-away:

Introducing youth to engineering and problem solving, encouraging them to actively engage in challenges, and connecting their work to their lives and to the work engineers do allows them to develop an identity as an engineer and problem solver.


  • How will you create experiences that help youth develop an engineering identity?
  • How can you help youth leverage their engineering skills to face future challenges with confidence?


Developed in collaboration with Christine M. Cunningham. These practices are also more fully described in educational research articles (Cunningham, 2018; Cunningham & Kelly, 2017).