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Acting Out: Using Theater To Discuss The Career Struggles Of Women Faculty In Engineering

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade: The Tenure Process

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.140.1 - 9.140.8



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Paper Authors

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Naomi Chesler

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Leslyn Hall

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Mark Chesler

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Acting Out: Using Theater to Discuss Career Struggles of Women Faculty in Engineering Naomi C. Chesler, Leslyn Hall, Mark A. Chesler

University of Wisconsin/ORC Marco International/University of Michigan

Abstract In a workshop for untenured women faculty in engineering, participatory theater exercises were used to build community and facilitate a discussion among participants about their career struggles. Two key differences between participatory theater-based discussions and traditional round table discussions are the physical enactment of personal experiences and the collective brainstorming for (and enactment of) problem-solving strategies. At the workshop, the theater exercises built and strengthened a caring community for the participants, helped the participants recognize shared struggles and concerns, and had obvious immediate and potential longer-term positive impacts on participants. Thus, participatory theater may be a novel and useful strategy for women in engineering to discuss personal and professional concerns, find community support around and develop new ways of working through those concerns.

I. Introduction In 2001, 17.5% of assistant professors, 11.1% of associate professors and 4.4% of full professors in engineering disciplines were women [1]. Despite much progress toward provisions for equal opportunities for women, subtleties such as cognitive differences that affect professional choices, socialization patterns that affect communication and conflict resolution styles, and small but accumulated disadvantages, result in women advancing less and less rapidly than their male counterparts [2, 3]. This under-representation and increasing loss of women faculty members decreases the number of female role models available to undergraduate students, the diversity of research teams and the return on investment from the considerable resources universities spend on faculty and research [4]. Thus, there exists ample evidence that women who are in or may enter academic engineering careers could benefit from more and better support mechanisms.

Previously we have suggested that such support, especially in the form of a caring community, could improve the quality of life for women faculty members in engineering [5]. Over time, it might even have a positive long-term effect on retention and advancement. Other benefits of community for women faculty members in engineering may include informational gains such as increased understanding of the information necessary for successful professional development within an academic career, psychosocial gains such as heightened self-awareness or increased self-confidence and an awareness of “not being alone,” and instrumental gains such as a commitment to mentor others and share the benefits of the caring community with a broader population [6].

Participatory theater has been created and used as a strategy for addressing personal and social problems by a variety of social activists. As Halperin notes, “Through mutual activity people create community out of a collection of individuals and, through community, can act to change

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Chesler, N., & Hall, L., & Chesler, M. (2004, June), Acting Out: Using Theater To Discuss The Career Struggles Of Women Faculty In Engineering Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13600

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