Asee peer logo

Being And Becoming: Gender And Identity Formation Of Engineering Students

Download Paper |


2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

SPECIAL SESSION: Describing the Engineering Student Learning Experience Based on CAEE Findings: Part 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.250.1 - 13.250.20



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Debbie Chachra Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

author page

Deborah Kilgore University of Washington

author page

Heidi Loshbaugh Colorado School of Mines

author page

Janice McCain Howard University

author page

Helen Chen Stanford University

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

II: Perceptions of engineering and of engineering design

Faulkner [2007] describes the practice of professional engineers as a tension between being a ‘technicist’ and the true ‘heterogenous’ nature of their work. Both men and women see technical work as ‘real’ engineering, and believe that one’s engineering identity revolves around technical skill. However, engineering practice requires many other skills which are not technically oriented. Engineers who were more focused on the non-technical aspects (such as project management or client liaison) felt that this had an impact on their identity as engineers.

Here we present some results that suggest men and women have different conceptions of engineering design, which we posit may have an impact on their engineering identity.

Defining and Doing Engineering

The definition of engineering varies widely and depends on its source and purpose. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) acknowledges that engineering has been defined in many ways and adds that it is often referred to as the “application of science” because engineers take abstract ideas and build tangible products from them. Engineering is also defined as “design under constraint,” because to engineer a product means to construct it in such a way that it will do exactly what you want it to, without any unexpected consequences [NAE]. ABET states that engineering is “the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of [hu]mankind” [ABET 2008].

We explored how students perceived engineering at various academic levels, and whether male and female engineering students had different understandings of what engineering is and what engineers do. Structured interview data were collected from study participants in their first, sophomore, and junior years. Study participants were asked, “In your own words, would you please define engineering?” Student responses were expressed across a wide range of anticipated responses and were captured as emerging themes (see Table 2). Some sample responses include:

• “…I hardly thought about that before…designing new materials…” (Year 1 Female)

• “…an occupation that requires technical knowledge, critical thinking, and problem solving techniques” (Year 3 Female).

• “The practice of analyzing, and problem solving, and inventing, and building… creating” (Year 3 Male)

Chachra, D., & Kilgore, D., & Loshbaugh, H., & McCain, J., & Chen, H. (2008, June), Being And Becoming: Gender And Identity Formation Of Engineering Students Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3597

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015