Tufts University is going to investigate whether service-learning — basically do-gooder-type engineering programs — will help attract kids and especially women to engineering careers.

Anecdotally, service-oriented groups like the student-run Engineers Without Borders (EWB) provide evidence the idea will work, particularly for women. Forty percent of EWB members are women though the engineering profession as a whole is only 5% female. And about 40% of Tufts’ female engineering majors participate in school-supported service learning programs such as one which pairs undergraduate and graduate level students with teachers in public K-12 schools.

For research purposes, Tufts engineering undergraduates enrolled in service-learning programs will complete surveys assessing their beliefs about engineering and their self-efficacy — confidence, motivation, and expectations of achieving success when faced with a difficult engineering problem.

Finally, the students will get a hands-on task — say, designing a jar opener for a one-armed person — and then be monitored for how closely they follow a structured design process and adhere to standard engineering principles.