New Orleans, Louisiana
February 20, 2022
February 20, 2022
July 20, 2022
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions
The purpose of this paper is twofold: 1) to evaluate the support provided to women engineering students through outreach programs at Tickle College of Engineering (TCE), University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK) and 2) to investigate the primary reasons undergraduate women engineering students choose to pursue careers in STEM and the most influential push factors are that might make women hesitant to enter such a difficult job field. Future research proposed in this study is student-inspired and lead by a rising sophomore in engineering who has participated in outreach programs mentioned here and compliments efforts to build a stronger women-centered engineering engagement program in TCE.
The motivation behind assessing the persistence of women in STEM fields is something that has been highly researched. This type of research explores biological and personality differences between men and women that contribute to the inequality of representation in certain job areas. While there are a multitude of sources all giving slightly different perspectives on the topic, they each have a factor in common: that women are not treated or represented equally in STEM fields. Changes need to be made to fix this problem. As stated in the book Women in STEM Disciplines, “If gender equality in STEM continues to progress at today’s rate, it will take at least 40 years before women can contribute equally to science and technology” (Schmuck 109). Though the situation has improved for women in STEM, there is still much to be done to close the gap of inequality.
The K-12 education system plays a critical role in shaping the major choice and career trajectory of students. TCE has a pre-college outreach program designed to introduce engineering to women and students from underrepresented minority groups. Some of these programs include a NSF-funded middle school girls camp coordinated by the second author, and several programs developed by the third author at the Office of Diversity Programs (ODP) at TCE that bring middle and high school students to campus to work on projects. ODP’s pre-college summer programs have received national and international awards/recognitions from the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Programs Advocates (NAMEPA) and Airbus Global Engineering Deans Councils. Through these programs, over 1,650 middle and high school students from underserved communities and underrepresented backgrounds are able to bridge the gap in knowledge, major exploration, and career readiness needed to pursue jobs within the growing STEM professions.
TCE’s outreach programs for women in engineering start in middle school. Adventures in STEM, TCE’s only single-gender program, was run by the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Networks (CURENT) and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), two NSF-funded research centers located at UTK. This program, run from 2012-2019, exposed girls in grades 6-8 to engineering, math, and biology in a week-long summer day camp. In their pre/post-camp surveys, participants expressed positive attitudes about women’s abilities to pursue and succeed in STEM careers. Participants felt like the camp gave them the chance to be around other girls their age with similar interests. One participant stated that “I liked it because I got the chance to bond with the other people and I felt more confident about myself around them.”
Middle school exposure alone is not sufficient to encourage persistence in STEM. Under James Pippin’s leadership, ODP’s first pre-college summer program for middle school students was founded in 1997. Bridging upon this program’s success and need for ongoing enrichment programs for coed groups, TCE expanded its programs to engage high school women, underserved, and underrepresented populations in STEM activities since, as the National Science & Technology Council (2018) reports, additional inventions, breakthroughs, patents, and innovations would be discovered if there was equitable access and fewer barriers to entry.
The motivation for this study is rooted in the first author, a TCE student, and her experiences with STEM enrichment programs in the past. She was able to participate in programs and classes that allowed her to learn about career options and have early exposure to different areas of study. Through her participation in ODP’s Pre-College Programs, SWE Tomorrow’s Engineers Today, and her high school’s STEM program, she was able to learn about the various academic opportunities available. Another influential factor in her decision to pursue STEM comes from her father’s work as an electrical engineer. These influences led her to conduct this study to ensure more women have access to outreach programs and chose to pursue STEM careers.
The first author has created a survey called “Women in STEM” using QuestionPro and designed it to be answered by female college students who are pursuing a STEM degree. This survey will be distributed to all UTK undergraduate students in engineering who identify as female. The survey begins with demographic questions and logic settings. The survey also asks about the individual’s status pertaining to an internship or research position. The principal questions of the survey ask participants to rate the most significant push and pull factors when considering pursuing a STEM career. One important feature of the survey is that it asks participants to explain their highest ranked factors which will provide interesting and unique feedback.
By focusing on the various factors affecting women in STEM at one university, we hope to elicit specific conclusions not only about UTK but also insights that can be utilized at other large public universities. We anticipate elements found in the literature by the first author, including those related to intrinsic motivation, positive past experiences, family leave, misogyny, and gender discrimination, will be prevalent in our study as well. The application of these broader concepts to the practical concerns of UTK students can lead to conclusions about what changes and improvements can be made in order to increase female participation and acceptance into the STEM community.
National Science & Technology Council. “Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.” https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/05/f62/STEM-Education-Strategic-Plan-2018.pdf Accessed January 30, 2021.
Schmuck, Claudine. Women in STEM Disciplines: the Yfactor 2016 Global Report on Gender in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Springer, 2017.
Boyd, I. A., & Skutnik, A., & Thompson, J. N., & Brouwers, M. (2022, February), Bridging the STEM Gender Gap through Women-focused Outreach Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39104
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