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Comparing the Learning Experiences of Male and Female Engineering Students in Internship and Cooperative Educational Opportunities

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Comparing Different Aspects of the Cooperative Education Experience

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.348.1 - 22.348.19



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Paper Authors


Kevin Anderson University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Kevin Anderson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research focuses on primary through university STEM education policy and practice, and the alignment of education with professional practice. He previously taught science and math at the secondary level and earned the distinction of National Board Certified Teacher.

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Kathy J. Prem University of Wisconsin-Madison, Engineering Career Services


Sara Wirsbinski University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Sara Wirsbinski is currently at an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison pursing a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering.

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Sandra Shaw Courter University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Sandra Shaw Courter is PI for the “Aligning Educational Experiences with Ways of Knowing Engineering (AWAKEN): How People Learn” project. She is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Engineering Professional Development and Wendt Commons: Teaching and Learning Services. Her area of research is engineering education, including assessment of student learning. She taught technical communication courses to undergraduate engineering students and currently consults with faculty and teaching assistants. She earned her Ph.D. in educational administration at UW, Madison.

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Comparing the Learning Experiences of Male and Female Engineering Students in Internship and Cooperative Educational OpportunitiesAbstract Many studies share clear benefits from engineering student involvement in cooperativeand internship programs. Students increase in motivation and self-efficacy; they gain specifictechnical skills as well as improved abilities to apply knowledge, solve problems, andcommunicate professionally; their improved understanding of the work environment also aids intheir career decisions. However, little research has been done to compare these importantlearning outcomes between male and female engineering students. Research shows that most men find it easier than women to build effective workrelationships and feel a sense of belonging in engineering worksites. Some job sites are morestereotypically masculine. These findings are unsurprising as there are more male than femalepracticing engineers. A deeper concern that arises is that female engineering graduates are lesslikely than males to pursue engineering careers. Understanding how learning experiences in internships and cooperative experiencesdiffer between male and female students can provide insights into ways to tailor educationalexperiences to better meet the differing needs and wants of students. Understanding possibledifferences in what female students value in their work could help to better steer female studentsto degree programs, extracurricular activities, and jobs that will best utilize their skills andinclinations—and will ideally lead to greater retention and job placement of female students. This research utilized a grounded theory approach to understand student learningexperiences. Students responded to open ended survey questions. Researchers collaborated tofind common themes in those responses and develop theories around key learning in internshipsand co-ops. Students were surveyed at the end of their intern and co-op programs in Summer 2009,Winter 2010, Spring 2010 and Summer 2010. In total 184 male and 54 female studentsresponded, with over 90% being white. Initial data analysis shows marked variation in reported learning of male and femalestudents. The following table shows the six top themes found in student responses to thequestion, “What key things did you learn in this internship or co-op and why are theyimportant?”Table 1: Percent of Male and Female Students Identifying this Learning OutcomeLearning Theme Male (n=184) Female (n=54)Communication 55% 81%Technical skills 34% 12%Time management 13% 29%and organizationHow company, 19% 17%business functionsProblem solving 8% 13%Responsibility and 7% 15%work ethic These findings indicate that female students place more value on their learning ofcommunication skills and time management than male students, while males were more likely toindicate learning specific technical skills. Generally, female students more frequently emphasizelearning how to function in professional environments. This finding suggests that the socializingof male engineering students within engineering firms could focus on more technical domains,while the socializing of female students could focus more on professional relationship domains. Further data analysis will include statistical analysis of these findings and otherquestions, including reported responsibilities and contributions to the organization, whether ornot they would take the position again, and how well the experience improved theirunderstanding of various aspects of the engineering profession.

Anderson, K., & Prem, K. J., & Wirsbinski, S., & Courter, S. S. (2011, June), Comparing the Learning Experiences of Male and Female Engineering Students in Internship and Cooperative Educational Opportunities Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17629

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