Current Projects

The Head Start on Engineering initiative includes a number of ongoing projects supported by different funders. Below are descriptions of the most current efforts.

Head Start on Engineering Systems (2019–23)

With support from the National Science Foundation (DRL-1906409), we are currently extending the existing HSE program within Mt. Hood Community College Head Start and continuing to investigate the ways families develop interests related to engineering across contexts and over time. For this phase, the team is using a design-based implementation research approach and integrated longitudinal case studies to refine the HSE program with a larger group of families to serve as an innovative model for other communities around the country. The expanded program will also advance knowledge about family-level engineering interest development systems and how they can be supported by ongoing, cross-context learning experiences, especially as children transition from preschool into kindergarten.

Research Exploring Activity Characteristics and Heuristics for Early Childhood Engineering (REACH-ECE) (2019–22)

We are also currently extending the reach of the HSE program in partnership with Metropolitan Family Service (MFS), a community-based organization that serves low-income, racially and ethnically diverse communities across the Portland, Oregon metro region. With funding from the National Science Foundation (EEC-1930848), TERC, University of Notre Dame, and MFS are adapting the HSE program and activities for MFS’s parent and family engagement model. The team will then conduct a three-year design-based research study to better understand how the characteristics of hands-on family engineering activities influence how preschool-age children and their parents engage in the engineering design process.

Engineering for Equity (2020–21)

With support from TERC, we are developing a new strand of work related to the HSE initiative that focuses on how engineering education research in early childhood can more directly address issues of equity for traditionally underrepresented communities—with a particular focus on low-income families from the East Portland metro region that identify as Latinx or Hispanic. This includes giving voice to participants, informing a more relevant and responsive engineering curriculum, documenting family stories of success and empowerment, and working with communities to help reshape the education system. Guided by a community-based participatory research process, we are currently conducting conversations with experts, families, and community stakeholders, reviewing and synthesizing literature; and developing plans for the next phase of work.

Diálogos: Harnessing Latinx Community Cultural Wealth to Support Executive Function in Early Childhood through Family Engineering Experiences (2022–23)

Diálogos is a new NSF-funded project (DRL-2115463) in partnership with Oregon State University designed to engage parents as research partners in exploring the ways we can leverage informal family engineering activities to support the development of executive function skills for preschool-age children from Latinx families. Through this new initiative, we aspire to work collaboratively with parents, centering the strengths and assets of Latinx families to re-imagine the intersection of STEM learning and executive function and lay the foundation for equity-focused research.

The project is focused on three research questions: (1) What knowledge, assets, and practices already exist within Latinx families related to these executive function skills? (2) What aspects of executive function skills can be supported through informal family engineering activities? and (3) What design strategies are promising for adapting informal family engineering activities to highlight family assets and support executive function skills for young children? Project deliverables will include a conceptual framework co-developed with parents that highlights promising opportunities and design strategies and a research agenda outlining questions and priorities for future work that reflect the goals and interests of this community.


I believe these engineering activities will really create a problem-solving mindset that my son will have for life.”

– Head Start parent