Head Start on Engineering

Understanding and Supporting Early Childhood Engineering Interest Development for Low-Income Families

Lead Staff:
Scott Pattison
Project Staff:
Smirla Ramos Montañez
Viviana Lopez Burgos


Head Start on Engineering (HSE) is a family-focused, informal STEM education program based in Portland, OR, that engages Head Start staff, parents, and children (ages 4 to 5, all from low-income backgrounds) in an integrated set of experiences over six months (e.g., staff professional development, family workshops, take-home activity kits, science center visits) to foster family interest in engineering and the engineering design process. Since 2014, the project team has collaborated with Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) Head Start, University of Notre Dame, and Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to develop and test the program and use it as a context for studying how families with preschool-age children develop long-term interest pathways related to engineering. Evaluation and research results have provided strong evidence that HSE supports sustained engineering interest development and is of value to families and the Head Start community. Photo: Headstart on Engineering

Research Activity

The team is conducting an ongoing series of research studies to develop and test the HSE program, increase the cultural relevance of the program for Spanish- and English-speaking families, describe how the program sparks and sustains engineering-related interests, develop a theoretical model of early childhood interest development as a family systems phenomenon, and identify the factors and processes that influence family interest development over time.

Additional Publications

Pattison, S. A., Svarovsky, G. N., Corrie, P., Benne, M., Nuñez, V., Dierking, L. D., & Verbeke, M. (2016). Conceptualizing early childhood STEM interest development as a distributed system: A preliminary framework. Presented at the National Association for Research in Science Teaching Annual Conference, Baltimore, MD. Scott Pattison, Gina Svarovsky, Ivel Gotan, Pam Greenough Corrie, Marcie Benne, Shannon, Weiss, Veronika Nuñez, Smirla Ramos-Montanez. “Teachers, informal STEM educators, and learning researchers collaborating to engage low-income families with engineering,” Connected Learning, v.4, 2017.

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Pattison, S. A., Weiss, S., Ramos-Montañez, S., Gontan, I., Svarovsky, G., Corrie, P. G., … Smith, C. (2018, March). Engineering in early childhood: Describing family-level interest development systems. Presented at the NARST 91st Annual International Conference, Atlanta, GA. Retrieved from Svarovsky, G. N., Pattison, S. A., Verbeke, M., Benne, M., & Corrie, P.. “Head Start on Engineering: Early findings (work in progress),” Juried Conference Paper (ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition), 2017.

Products & Materials

Pattison, S. A., Núñez, V., Smith, C., Svarovsky, G. N., Benne, M., Corrie, P., & Stewart, R. (2018). Introduction to the Head Start on Engineering pilot program: Engaging families with preschool children in the engineering design process.


Head Start on Engineering is funded in part by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1515628, DRL-1906409, EEC-1930848), Spencer Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, Collins Foundation, Boeing Corporation, University of Notre Dame, and Juan Young Trust. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.