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Barriers to Broadening Participation in Engineering Competition Teams

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session - Understanding and Changing Engineering Culture

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Rui (Celia) Pan Toyota Financial Services

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Dr. Pan is currently working as a sales, product and remarketing analyst at Toyota Financial Services. She received her Ph.D in Engineering Education from Purdue University. She hold a M.S. in Statistics and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering.

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Randa L. Shehab University of Oklahoma

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Dr. Randa L. Shehab is a professor and the Director of the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. She was recently appointed as Director of the Sooner Engineering Education Center dedicated to engineering education related initiatives and research focused on building diversity and enhancing the educational experience for all engineering students. Dr. Shehab teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in ergonomics, work methods, experimental design, and statistical analysis. Her current research is with the Research Institute for STEM Education, a multi-disciplinary research group investigating factors related to equity and diversity in engineering student populations.

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Deborah A. Trytten University of Oklahoma

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Dr. Deborah A. Trytten is a President's Associates Presidential Professor and Associate Professor of Computer Science and Womens' and Gender Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Her main research focus is diversity in engineering education and introductory software engineering education.

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Cindy E Foor University of Oklahoma

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Cindy E. Foor is the Associate Director/Research Associate for the Research Institute for STEM Education
(RISE) at the University of Oklahoma. Her contribution to the multi-disciplinary team lies in
qualitative methodologies, cultural theory and the belief that outliers offer great insight into the workings
of power. Her research interests include cultural theory, the cultural/historical construction of women’s
identities and roles in past and present societies, and most recently, equity issues surrounding gender and
underrepresented populations in engineering education. She can be contacted at

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Susan E. Walden University of Oklahoma Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Susan E. Walden is the founding Director of the Research Institute for STEM Education (RISE) and an associate research professor in the Dean's office of the College of Engineering (CoE). She is also a founding member of the Sooner Engineering Education (SEED) Center.

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Despite years of efforts to increase diversity in STEM, engineering continues to be a white male dominated discipline. This low representation of female and minority students is especially visible in student, experiential-learning, engineering competition teams (SELECT). SELECT provide some students opportunities to develop their engineering technical and professional skillset. Students who are excluded from participation, particularly students from the underrepresented groups, are at a significant disadvantage.

To investigate what factors contribute to the low diversity in SELECT, we implemented a multi-year mixed-methods research project. In the first phase, we interviewed 29 local SELECT team members and found an exclusive team culture that limited students' participation in multiple ways. Characteristics of this culture include extreme time commitment, stereotyped gender roles, and the presence of homophily and transitivity effects. To determine the generalizability and transferability of the findings from local SELECT to SELECT at other academic institutions, we developed an online survey for nation-wide distribution to SELECT team members. Data were collected from 116 SELECT members from across the United States.

Overall, analysis of the surveys showed that diverse students' participation in SELECT is challenged at multiple levels. "Entry barriers" are often encountered when students first attempt to join the team. These barriers are a result of insular SELECT cultures and membership, which make it difficult to find a comfortable entry point. “Persistence barriers” are then faced by team members who desire to become "core" members. New members must demonstrate commitment and earn the trust of more senior members while managing the costs incurred from this required time commitment. Finally, students who desire to participate in team leadership are confronted with a “legacy barrier” exhibited through nepotistic practice for team leader selection. We believe the systemic problems of SELECT could be appropriately addressed through administrative guidance and oversight. In particular, our findings suggest that the lack of advisor involvement and guidance might reinforce those barriers and contribute to the construction of an exclusive team culture. An effective solution will require broad engagement from faculty and staff and will involve building transparent and inclusive processes.

Pan, R. C., & Shehab, R. L., & Trytten, D. A., & Foor, C. E., & Walden, S. E. (2016, June), Barriers to Broadening Participation in Engineering Competition Teams Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26365

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