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Competence In Engineering: A Tale Of Two Women

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Attitudes, Self-Confidence, and Self-Efficacy of Women Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.348.1 - 14.348.12



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Paper Authors


Holly Matusovich Virginia Tech

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Holly Matusovich is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education. Dr. Matusovich recently joined Virginia Tech after completing her doctoral degree in Engineering Education at Purdue University. She also has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and an M.S. in Materials Science with a concentration in Metallurgy. Additionally Dr. Matusovich has four years of experience as a consulting engineer and seven years of industrial experience in a variety of technical roles related to metallurgy and quality systems for an aerospace supplier. Dr. Matusovich’s research interests include the role of motivation in learning engineering as well as retention and diversity concerns within engineering education and engineering as a profession.

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Ruth Streveler Purdue University

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Ruth A. Streveler is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Before coming to Purdue she spent 12 years at Colorado School of Mines, where she was the founding Director of the Center for Engineering Education. Dr. Streveler earned a BA in Biology from Indiana University-Bloomington, MS in Zoology from the Ohio State University, and Ph.D in Educational Psychology from the University of Hawaii at M?noa. Her primary research interest is investigating students’ understanding of difficult concepts in engineering science.

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Ronald Miller Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Ronald L. Miller is professor of chemical engineering and Director of the Center for Engineering Education at the Colorado School of Mines where he has taught chemical engineering and interdisciplinary courses and conducted engineering education research for the past 23 years. Dr. Miller has received three university-wide teaching awards and has held a Jenni teaching fellowship at CSM. He has received grant awards for education research from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education FIPSE program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and has published widely in the engineering education literature. He won the Wickenden Award from the American Society for Engineering Education for best paper published in the Journal of Engineering Education during 2005.

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Barbara Olds Colorado School of Mines

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

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

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015