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Changing the Face of Engineering: Can Photovoltaic Engineering Lead the Charge?

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Undergraduate Recruitment

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.303.1 - 25.303.14



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Paper Authors


Susan Shapcott Arizona State University

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Susan Shapcott holds a master’s of arts degree in educational psychology from Arizona State University, and is pursuing her doctorate. One of her research interests is the motivation and performance of adults in underrepresented environments.

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Katherine G. Nelson Arizona State University

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Katherine Nelson is in her fourth year of graduate studies at Arizona State University (ASU), working towards her Ph.D. in engineering education. She is currently a Research Assistant at the NSF and DOE co-sponsored Engineering Research Center on Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technology (QESST) at ASU. In this role, she is focusing her attentions on development of both effective and affective curricular tools to aid post-secondary students' learning in solar energy/photovoltaics engineering.

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Jenefer Husman Arizona State University

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Abstract Changing the Face of Engineering: How Photovoltaic Engineering can Lead the Charge The low recruitment and high attrition rate of women in engineering is well documented.Women account for only twenty percent of the entering class cohort, and drop out at a rate thirtypercent higher than their male counterparts. Based on these statistics it seems that the motivation forwomen to enter engineering programs is low and their motivation to persist is even lower. This paperhas three objectives. First, this paper will review existing literature that identifies why engineering doesnot retain female students. Second, this paper will synthesize the existing motivational psychology workinto a best-practice model for engineering programs. Last, we hypothesize that photovoltaic engineeringprograms are uniquely positioned to incorporate these recommendations into practice. Recent articles have suggested that there are relationships between the experiences of womenentering engineering programs and their motivation. For example, engineering has few female role-models and experts, has little perceived utility value and is likely to induce stereotype threat.Established educational psychology theory suggests that individuals are more likely to persist at a task ifthey have role-models to whom they can relate. For female engineering students, role-models might besenior female classmates or instructors. Therefore one problem engineering must overcome is the lownumber of female faculty members (13%). This not only limits the perception of opportunities that existfor women, but it also communicates that women are not experts in the field. Models have been shownto support student self-efficacy, a key component in achievement motivation. Additionally, this disparitycan trigger stereotype threat for female students who are aware of the pervasive negative stereotypesconcerning gender and engineering. Stereotype threat decreases motivation and impedes performance. We will argue, engineering currently emphasizes objects and understanding objects, rather thanunderstanding the way people interact with those objects. For some women, and otherunderrepresented groups, connections to people in an important aspect of a fulfilling career option.Finally, we will consider the perception that engineering may bad a poor choice for women wanting toachieve a work-life balance. The recent demand for solar energy technologies is driven by a rising market for renewableenergies. Emerging with this demand are new photovoltaic engineering courses and programs of study.These new photovoltaic curricula provide an opportunity to incorporate best-practice models at thebeginning of a program to promote the success of women. We will describe how photovoltaicengineering programs can serve as a test-bed and model for engineering programs that want to diversifytheir student body.

Shapcott, S., & Nelson, K. G., & Husman, J. (2012, June), Changing the Face of Engineering: Can Photovoltaic Engineering Lead the Charge? Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21061

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