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Development of a Study Abroad Experience in Africa as a Recruitment and Retention Tool for Women in Engineering

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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

WIED Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.482.1 - 22.482.5



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Paper Authors


Mara R. London Gonzaga University

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Mara London is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at Gonzaga University. Her research and teaching focus on water quality and treatment. She was one of two faculty members to travel to Zambia, Africa to assess the feasibility of developing an engineering study abroad program.

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Jillian Rae Cadwell Gonzaga University

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I am an assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Department at Gonzaga University. I earned a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder in Civil Engineering. My research incorporates biology, ecology, and fluid mechanics in the context of the stirring and mixing of reactive species. One of my primary concerns is with the effect of turbulent mixing on ecosystem health. My interest in understanding interactions between biological systems and the physical environment emerges from an interdisciplinary background in engineering, hydrology, and environmental science. I am also interested in pedagogy, specifically student learning styles. My goal is to engage all students in my classes by presenting material in such a way as to stimulate students with different learning styles (e.g. active learners, reflective observers, outcome-focused learners).

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Alexander Maxwell Clarkson University

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J. Alex Maxwell is a graduate student at Clarkson University. His primary research involves mercury cycling in the Adirondack park; however, he has remained involved in water quality projects in developing countries as an alumnus of Gonzaga University. In the summer of 2010, he traveled with Gonzaga faculty to Zambia to assess the feasibility of developing an engineering study abroad program.

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Development of a study abroad experience in Africa as a recruitment and retention tool for women in engineeringMultiple studies have documented that women value career paths that incorporate a clear socialpurpose and provide opportunities to help others [1]. Furthermore, studies have shown that thegeneral public does not view engineering as a discipline that plays a viable role in solving theproblems of society [1, 2].Currently, recruitment and retention of women pursing engineering degrees at our university is inaccord with the national average. We describe here, our efforts to recruit, retain, and attract morewomen through the on-going development of an independent engineering study abroad programin Africa that integrates engineering and social justice projects. The motivation for focusing on astudy abroad program as a recruitment and retention tool is three-fold, (1) women in engineeringstudy abroad at approximately twice the rate of men [3], (2) a desire to support our university’smission to provide service in remote parts of Africa, and (3) the opportunity to incorporate intoour curriculum a direct connection between engineering and public service.Development of a quality study abroad program, let alone one in a remote area, requires asubstantial amount of planning and navigation. During the summer of 2010, two engineeringfaculty and one recent alumnus, spent five weeks traveling and researching in communitiesthroughout Zambia, Africa to investigate program potential. An assessment of programfeasibility was made at three potential sites: the remote town of Zambezi, a small village at theChimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, and the growing four-year Zambia Catholic University outsidethe city of Kitwe. During the trip, we were able to inspect various teaching and housing facilities,develop local contacts and community partners, gather a volume of logistical details, andevaluate course and project opportunities and their potential impact on the local communities.Our assessment results indicated that a sustainable systems and/or sustainable design course (atany of the three locations) is the most appropriate type of course to implement in a three to fiveweek study abroad/socially responsible engagement experience. This type of ABET approvedcourse has the potential to be interdisciplinary; not only opening up the program to as manystudents as possible, but enabling the recruitment of faculty from throughout our engineeringschool.As we continue to work to establish a permanent program, we have incorporated a multi-yearwater treatment project at Chimfunshi into our senior design curriculum. The project was ourmost popular civil engineering (CE) project (out of a total of 12). Forty-three percent of ourfemale CE seniors and 23% of our CE seniors overall, ranked the Zambia project as their numberone choice. The senior design team includes two women who will work on the project in the U.S.for nine months. For our next phase of program development we hope to bring several juniors toZambia in 2011 to implement the design and help direct the path of our future socialjustice/engineering study abroad program.[1] Hill, C., Corbett, C., & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women, Retrieved October 4, 2010, from[2] National Academy of Engineering (2008). Changing the conversation: Messages for improving public understanding of engineering. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.[3] Salisbury, M., Paulsen, M., & Pascarella, E. To see the world or stay at home: Applying an integrated student choice model. Retrieved from University of Iowa, College of Education web site:

London, M. R., & Cadwell, J. R., & Maxwell, A. (2011, June), Development of a Study Abroad Experience in Africa as a Recruitment and Retention Tool for Women in Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17763

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