June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Women in Engineering
14.348.1 - 14.348.12
Competence in Engineering: A Tale of Two Women Abstract
This research examines persistence decisions among engineering undergraduates as a choice process which extends across all four years. Framed in motivational theory, this research focuses on competence beliefs, specifically students’ beliefs about their ability to become practicing engineers and how this shapes their choice to pursue engineering degrees. The primary data are interviews collected longitudinally over a four-year period with five men and five women undergraduate engineering students at Technical Public Institution (TPub, pseudonym). Data from these interviews are triangulated with survey data for the same students. Although not started as a study to examine gender differences, gender-based patterns emerged from the data. Results showed that some women students with very good grades (GPA higher than 3.9), can still experience a lack of confidence with regard to practicing engineering. Moreover, these same women students redefine what it means to successful in engineering as part of their choice process to persist in earning an engineering degree. Implications are discussed in terms of future research and the classroom context. This study is part of a larger body of work, the Academic Pathways Study (APS), conducted by the NSF-funded Center for Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE).
Which students persist in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields? Looking for ways to increase persistence rates, we frequently research the characteristics that differentiate persisters and non-persisters. However, the choice to persist may not be as binary as these two terms would imply. The research reported here begins to unravel the complexities of persistence by looking at the choice to be an engineer as a process extending over time and involving continually motivated decisions. By taking the perspective of students who persist in earning engineering degrees, this research shows how students negotiate the choice process. This research focuses on ability beliefs which have been shown to be important in career decision-making processes particularly in STEM fields. 1-5 In particular, this study shows how two female participants, who, despite earning excellent grades, have recurring doubts about their engineering-related ability and negotiate the path to persistence by adjusting their definitions of what it means to be successful as an engineer.
This current study builds on and expands a previous study 6 by examining an additional six participants and focusing on similar research questions. Since qualitative research can be used to generalize to a theory 7, increasing participant numbers increases potential generalizability. In the previous work, Matusovich et al 6 asked, How do students characterize success in their given engineering field? How do these characterizations develop and change with time? Do students believe they have these characteristics that they define as important to success? Now the current study starts with the broader questions, What are student’s engineering-related ability beliefs and how do they change over the undergraduate years? How do these beliefs contribute to persistence choices? Although the original study including ten participants did not focus on differences between genders, patterns emerged that could have implications for further research,
Matusovich, H., & Streveler, R., & Miller, R., & Olds, B. (2009, June), Competence In Engineering: A Tale Of Two Women Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5132
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