One of the key ways to build efficacy is providing vicarious experience. Vicarious experience refers to learning through observing others perform tasks, and it is a key way we develop our own sense of efficacy related to a task. For example, while observing a more advanced student, a novice thinks, “If she can design and construct a working robot, so can I.” Role models can provide vicarious experience for girls, and they are especially influential when they are perceived as similar to the observer. For example, when female faculty members and advanced female STEM students interact, the students’ self-efficacy grows. Indeed, research suggests that vicarious experience is a particularly powerful determinant of girls’ and young women’s STEM self- efficacy.
Role models can help students see themselves in a pathway or career. Using role models that represent the diversity in your classroom or recruiting pool can enhance the power of this vicarious experience. If you have guest speakers from the advanced manufacturing industry, make sure to include women and people of color. When you use student ambassadors, try to match them strategically based on their gender and race. When you print information, make sure to select photos of women and people of color. The power of role models is amplified when students perceive the people as similar to themselves and can relate to their stories and life experiences.
Finding and training role models is worth the effort. They can have a big impact on students’ beliefs about what they can accomplish. Role models are more effective if students perceive them as similar, because they can more easily envision themselves completing the task or working in the career successfully. Further, role models who have credibility with the learners and demonstrate enthusiasm and competence are more effective. Prompt your role models to establish credibility, speak with enthusiasm, and underscore that their competence has been built through effort rather than innate ability. Encourage them to watch NAPE’s 30 minute training for role models on YouTube (http://youtu.be/jAth4rnM5Ug)