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Beyond Math Readiness: Understanding Why Some Women Pursue Engineering

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2024 Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity (CoNECD)


Arlington, Virginia

Publication Date

February 25, 2024

Start Date

February 25, 2024

End Date

February 27, 2024

Conference Session

Track 1: Technical Session 7:Beyond Math Readiness: Understanding Why Some Women Pursue Engineering

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Olivia Ryan Virginia Tech Engineering Education

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Olivia Ryan is a Ph.D. student in Engineering Education and a Master's student in Engineering Mechanics at Virginia Tech. She holds a B.S. in engineering with a specialization in electrical engineering from Roger Williams University. Her research interests include understanding curriculum barriers in engineering related to mathematics.

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Susan Sajadi Virginia Tech

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Susan Sajadi is an assistant professor at Virginia Tech in the department of engineering education. She has a BSE and MS in Biomedical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education Systems and Design from Arizona State University. Prior, she worked as an engineer in the medical device industry.

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Students decide to study engineering for many reasons: they may be interested in math and science, enjoy tinkering with things, or have been encouraged to study engineering because of their academic ability. Women students often study engineering because of their math and science abilities. In the literature, interest and success in math and science are often considered the most critical factors influencing students' decision to study engineering. In many engineering programs, students need to start their undergraduate education in Calculus 1 to be on track in the major. In 2023, student readiness is significantly different because the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted math and science achievement. More incoming engineering students than ever placed below Calculus 1 and are navigating the impact this has on their engineering major and coursework trajectory. Even with the added barrier of being categorized as pre-math-ready or beginning in Pre-Calculus in their first semester, students continue to pursue engineering. What influences their decision to study engineering? This paper examines the factors influencing women engineering students' decision to pursue engineering when they are characterized as pre-math-ready. We interviewed engineering students in Calculus 1 during the second semester of their first year at a large southeastern university. The interview covered many topics about math, COVID, and engineering, but all the students discussed their desire and decision to pursue engineering. Using a life-course perspective developed for engineering students, we identified the factors influencing pre-math-ready students' decision to study engineering. Students discussed the strong influence of role models and family members who are engineers, the exposure to engineering through high school programs, and the desire to help people, which led them to study engineering. Students notably did not discuss academic achievement or math and science interest/proficiency as catalysts for their decision to pursue engineering. This work can help researchers and practitioners better understand how students who do not have high performance in math and science decide to pursue engineering. Future work can focus on investing in and improving the factors identified by this study.

Ryan, O., & Sajadi, S. (2024, February), Beyond Math Readiness: Understanding Why Some Women Pursue Engineering Paper presented at 2024 Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity (CoNECD), Arlington, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--45434

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