New Orleans, Louisiana
February 20, 2022
February 20, 2022
July 20, 2022
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions
According to current research in engineering education, studies show how narrow conceptualizations of the engineering “pipeline” overgeneralize the experiences of women into a single shared experience, ignoring the intersectionality of today’s female students (Metcalf, 2010). Once in college, women are faced with lack of mentoring and social support, leading to attrition (Rodrigues and Clancy, 2019). We have found these problems also at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), which has led to restructuring our initiatives to prioritize the pathway of women undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty in engineering.
This presentation will focus on the efforts of Tickle College of Engineering (TCE) administration. faculty, staff, and students to increase support for women in engineering by fulfilling our land grant mission of ensuring accessible engineering education integrated with research for student success. We will share how we use existing best practices to create and sustain innovative retention programs for undergraduate women, assist our graduate students in becoming well-rounded engineers through networking programs, and support our women faculty through continued professional development. This process engages university constituents as well as K-12 administrators, teachers, counselors and students, TCE alumni and Board of Advisors (BoA) by utilizing tools, resources, and best practices for student success.
For undergraduate students, TCE provides critical networking and professional development opportunities to female engineering students through two periodic events. The inaugural WomEngineers Leadership Council (WLC), composed of students, faculty, alumni, and TCE BoA members, began with WomEngineers Day, a biennial conference held during spring semester. The conference focuses on skills for the long-term success of female students such as workplace leadership, career opportunities, work-life balance, and negotiation techniques. The WLC also hosts an annual welcome dinner for first-year women in engineering in the fall. The dinner is designed to facilitate interactions between first-year students and current upper-level students and student organizations, faculty from all engineering departments, administrators, and TCE BoA. Both the inaugural welcome dinner and conference events were initiated by undergraduate female students who identified the need to provide ongoing support for women throughout their time at UT.
Our student leaders are at the forefront of TCE’s outreach, recruitment, and retention efforts. Annually, our SWE chapter and one of our departmental groups, SYSTERS: Women in EECS at UTK, hosts daylong outreach programs that spark K-12 girls' interest in STEM. In addition, Alpha Omega Epsilon (A.O.E.) STEM Sorority, Women in Industrial & Systems Engineering (WISE), and Women in Nuclear (WIN) are active in providing academic and social support, mentoring, and networking opportunities for undergraduate and graduate women in TCE. These organizations also collaborate with TCE Outreach Ambassadors to plan K-12 outreach events.
Based upon the success of our new TCE Outreach Ambassadors, the college hired four Women in Engineering (WIE) Ambassadors to join our undergraduate student recruitment team. WIE Ambassadors are a group of women who provide recommendations and coordinate recruitment, yield, and retention initiatives for prospective and undergraduate women in TCE.
Given UTK’s commitment to creating a culture of mattering and belonging, TCE established a mentorship program for student organization leaders: WIE LEAD, a collective of women-centric organizations focused on developing leaders to aid in the recruitment, retention, and engagement of undergraduate women in TCE. Embracing the intersectionality of women, WIE LEAD partners with the Office of Diversity Programs’ multicultural student organizations, including the NSBE, SHPE, and Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), to provide quarterly updates, professional development sessions, and opportunities for collaboration.
TCE has several opportunities to engage STEM graduate students. Women in STEM Advancing Research, Readiness, and Retention (WiSTAR3) was established as a home for female graduate students at across all STEM disciplines to engage in networking, professional development, and social events to prepare for careers in advanced research and academia. WiSTAR3 organizes a holistic graduate-level mentoring program that pairs early-stage graduate students with late-stage students for guidance on navigating graduate school, and pairs late-stage graduate students with post-docs, faculty, and research professionals across UTK and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to prepare students for life after graduation. WiSTAR3 provides students with additional opportunities to assume leadership roles outside of their own research and develop interpersonal and management skills to help them succeed in their post-graduation careers.
Various activities are also undertaken to support professional development of women faculty in TCE. This includes monthly meetings attended by non-tenure track and tenured/tenure-track faculty, women administrators, as well as the Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and Engagement. The goal of these meetings is to inform the faculty about various professional development opportunities on- and off-campus, empower the faculty, enable networking, and discuss and facilitate needed structural changes. Examples of activities include reading and discussing the book “Success Strategies from Women in STEM: A Portable Mentor;” organizing the film screenings, e.g., “Picture a Scientist,” followed by panel discussions; discussing scholarly articles related to Women in STEM; and hosting administrators to open more direct channels of communications between the administration and women faculty.
Other synergetic activities are pursued to facilitate change of the institutional culture at UTK. This includes various activities as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded ADVANCE award. The “Adaptions for a Sustainable Climate of Excellence and Diversity (ASCEND)” project aims to transform the institutional campus climate at UTK and reduce disparities in the recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement of female STEM faculty. Funded in the fall of 2018, the program has launched activities that target three specific institutional problems identified by female STEM faculty: (1) a culture of implicit bias, (2) experience of social and professional isolation, and (3) lack of support for work-life integration. A survey administered by the ASCEND evaluation team shows that faculty report numerous benefits from participating in ASCEND activities, such as being more reflective and intentional in how they spend their time, higher productivity, and greater organizational skills.
Attracting, retaining, and engaging more women in the field of engineering is exciting but can only happen if we address their barriers to entry, including lack of support, mentorship, and professional development. TCE is providing multiple pathways for inclusivity through both existing and new women-centric initiatives.
Metcalf, H. (2010) Stuck in the pipeline: A critical review of stem workforce literature. interActions, 6(2), 1-21.
Rodrigues, M.A., and Clancy, K.B.H. A comparative examination of research on why women are more underrepresented in some STEMM disciplines compared to others, with a particular focus on computer science engineering, physics, mathematics, medicine, chemistry, and biology. Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/resource/25585/Commissioned_Paper_Rodrigues.pdf
Thompson, J. N., & Skutnik, A., & Coble, J. B., & Khojandi, A., & Palomino, A. M., & Keppens, V., & Kilic, O. (2022, February), Creating Pathways for Success and Engagement for Women in Engineering Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39111
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