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Assessing Gender Differences in First-Year Student Motivation

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Undergraduate Student Issues II

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.210.1 - 23.210.16



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Paper Authors


Robin Fowler University of Michigan

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Ms. Fowler is a Lecturer in Technical Communications at the University of Michigan. She holds MAs in Second Language Studies and Composition, and she is working on a PhD in Educational Psychology/Educational Technology.

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Lorelle A Meadows University of Michigan

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Dr. Meadows is Assistant Dean of Academic Programs in the Office of Undergraduate Education at the University of Michigan

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Assessing Gender Differences in First-Year Student MotivationFor the past decade, engineering schools have developed a variety of models for introducingfirst-year students to their chosen field. These range from surveys of engineering disciplines andintroductions to problem solving and algorithmic thinking, to design and professional skills inproject-based learning courses. Such courses have greatly enhanced the participants’ earlyunderstanding of the engineering field, improving student understanding of the field andallowing students to make better choices of disciplines and, consequently, increased theirsatisfaction with their engineering education (Sheppard, Macatangay, Colby, & Sullivan, 2007).Despite the growth of design projects in first-year engineering courses, little research to dateexamines the effect of such courses on student motivation. Broad studies of retention inengineering education show promising results for women and other under-represented studentsin project-based courses (Knight, Carlson, & Sullivan, 2007); however, engineering educatorsneed a richer understanding of how specific project-oriented pedagogies affect students’, andparticularly women’s, motivations for engineering and their intended career plans. This studyfocuses on women because of their continued underrepresentation in engineering (e.g., Ohland,Brawner, et al., 2011; Ohland, Sheppard, et al., 2008) and the need to ensure effective retentionefforts in the midst of a movement to enact large-scale curricular transformation in engineering.To address this need, this study investigated student motivational level (based on the expectancy-value theory of academic achievement) as well as intentions to persist of male and female firstyear engineering students at a large Midwestern university at three time points: as studentsentered their first semester (n=323; 107 female and 215 male), after completing the first semester(n=191; 70 female and 121 male), and after completing the first academic year (n=133; 52female and 81 male.). An online survey, updated from another study (Jones, Paretti, Hein, &Knott, 2010), investigated six motivational constructs using Likert-style questions: interest inengineering, perceived usefulness of engineering, identity with engineering, sense of belongingin engineering, expectancy of success in an engineering program, and sense of worth ofobtaining an engineering degree. Additionally, students were surveyed as to their intentions topersist in the engineering program and to pursue a career related to their engineering degree. Aconfirmatory factor analysis coupled with internal reliability measures suggested that the factorswere constructed appropriately for this application of the survey.Consistent with previous research, female students entered the university with significantly lowerratings of expectancy of success in engineering coursework than male students (Jones et al.,2010). However, their expectancy of success increased over the first year, such that femalestudents were statistically indistinguishable from male students by the end of the first year. Inaddition, women exhibited a slightly lower (marginally significant) sense of belonging inengineering than men upon entering university study. Interestingly, there were very fewsignificant differences between the successive surveys. In addition to women showing amarginally significant increase in expectancy for success over the first year, men exhibited amarginally significant decrease in their sense that an engineering degree is worth the cost. Theseresults contribute to an already complex set of findings on gender and motivation in engineeringundergraduate studies, and an analysis of the underlying antecedents is warranted.References CitedJones, B.D., Paretti, M.C., Hein, S.F., & Knott, T.W. (2010). An analysis of motivationconstructs with first-year engineering students: Relationships among expectancies, values,achievement, and career plans. Journal of Engineering Education, 99, 319-336.Knight, D.W., Carlson, L.E., & Sullivan, J.F. (2007). Improving engineering student retentionthrough hands-on, team-based, first-year design projects. 31st International Conference onResearch in Engineering Education. Honolulu, HI.Ohland, M.W., Brawner, C.E., Camacho, M.M., Layton, R.A., Long, R.A., Lord, S.M., &Washburn, M.H. (2011). Race, gender, and measures of success in engineering education.Journal of Engineering Education, 100, 225-252.Ohland, M.W., Sheppard, S.D., Lichtenstein, G., Eris, O. Chachra, D., & Layton, R.A. (2008).Persistence, engagement, and migration in engineering program. Journal of EngineeringEducation, 97, 259–278.

Fowler, R., & Meadows, L. A. (2013, June), Assessing Gender Differences in First-Year Student Motivation Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19224

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