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Comparing The Relative Contribution Of Individual And Environmental Factors To The Intent To Remain In An Engineering Major, By Gender

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Retaining Women Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.297.1 - 15.297.12



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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth Creamer Virginia Tech

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Peggy Meszaros Virginia Tech

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Catherine Amelink Virginia Tech

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

Comparing the Relative Contribution of Individual and Environmental Factors to the Intent to Remain in an Engineering Major, by Gender1

ABSTRACT A series of hierarchical linear regressions were run to determine the differences by gender among undergraduates (N=1629) in the relative contribution of individual and environmental factors to predicting interest in remaining in an engineering major. Individual and environmental factors played a significant role for both men and women in predicting the dependent variable, but individual variables, particularly motivation, explained more of the variance. Elements of the collegiate experience had a stronger impact on women’s than men’s intentions, with perceptions of care/respect having the strongest positive effects and competition, grades, and time required for coursework the most negative effects.


Diversifying the profile of engineers in the workforce occurs at many critical junctures in the educational process, including through encouragement to enroll in advanced courses in math and science during high school and outreach activities about career opportunities that occur as early as elementary school. While research outcomes are not entirely consistent on this point, evidence is that the gender and racial gap in persistence once enrolled in an engineering major has narrowed to near parity. In a recent analysis, for example, Lord et al.1 determined that contrary to prevailing perceptions, women and men persist in engineering majors at approximately the same rate across all ethnic groups. Less encouraging is evidence that a gender gap persists after completion of an undergraduate major in engineering, when women were significantly less likely than men to express interest in pursuing jobs in engineering2,3,4.

Conceptual Framework

The literature about the persistence and success of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) fields is generally implicitly or explicitly framed from either an individual or environmental/structural perspective5,6 . An individual perspective examines the impact of individual variables, such as motivation and interest in science and engineering7, on retention and career interests. On the other hand, an environmental or ecological perspective shifts attention to the wider social context, including not only societal expectations and stereotyping of a field as masculine or feminine8, but experiences in and out-of-the classroom. From this worldview, the shaping and monitoring of group assignments9, negative experiences in the classroom10, emphasis placed on competition, opportunities for meaningful and supportive interactions with faculty11, and peers12 play a more critical role than individual qualities in promoting a commitment to engineering as a long-term pursuit.

1 This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF GSE 0522767)

Creamer, E., & Meszaros, P., & Amelink, C. (2010, June), Comparing The Relative Contribution Of Individual And Environmental Factors To The Intent To Remain In An Engineering Major, By Gender Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15705

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