Jacob Grohs believes that teachers and their school systems, universities, and companies are uniquely positioned to come together and create positive engineering experiences for students. Through the Virginia Tech Partnering with Educators and Engineers in Rural Schools initiatative, funded through the National Science Foundation, Grohs is working with teachers in rural middle schools and engineers in industries located near the communities where these schools are located to create engineering learning experiences for students. An aspiration to take this work further led to a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Grohs' five-year project, “Engineering Pathways for Appalachian Youth: Design Principles and Long-term Impacts of School-Industry Partnerships,” will contribute to knowledge on how students develop, maintain, or shift engineering interest pathways as they engage in sustained engineering activities, facilitated through collaborations between their schools and industries in their communities, in the classroom and beyond. 

The project will introduce young people in rural communities to engineering careers available in their communities, educational experiences that seem to be limited at this time. It will involve collaborative partnerships between engineers in local manufacturing companies and school teachers, who will come together to co-develop innovative engineering learning experiences for more than 2,500 students from counties in Appalachia.

Engineers and formal and informal educators will plan and implement educational innovations that will facilitate opportunities for rural youth to use engineering and computer programming skills throughout their middle and high school years. 

Grohs' research will determine whether and how different groups of rural youth develop and maintain interest in engineering career pathways from middle school through the period after high school graduation, using cluster analyses and qualitative methods. 

The NSF CAREER program is considered one of the most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the “potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”