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Does Engineering Attract or Repel Female Students Who Passionately Want to Help People?

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.442.1 - 24.442.14



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Paper Authors


Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., P.E., is a Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has been on the faculty since 1996. She serves as the ABET Assessment Coordinator for the Department. Professor Bielefeldt teaches introductory courses for first year engineering students, senior capstone design, and environmental engineering specialty courses. She conducts engineering education research related to learning through service (LTS), social responsibility, sustainability, ethics, and globalization.

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Does Engineering Attract or Repel Female Students Who Passionately Want to Help People?Engineering is currently promoting itself with messages that engineers “improve people’s livesin meaningful ways” (NAE 2008 Changing the Conversation). This may help attract femalestudents to engineering. But will the curriculum they find in college reinforce this desire to helppeople through engineering… or will they decide they are better able to pursue this goal throughother avenues? This study explored the attitudes of first-year students at the end of their firstsemester in engineering in order to help answer this question.Methods: Female students’ reflective essays were examined. The students wrote these essaysbetween 2008 and 2012 at the end of the semester in first year introduction to civil engineering(CE), environmental engineering (EvE), or architectural engineering (AE) courses. Theassignment asked students to reflect on their definition of CE/EvE/AE, if they were interested incontinuing to major in civil engineering, and why. Students were prompted to discuss personalexperiences prior to college and content in their college courses that impacted this decision.Students were also instructed to “Cite specific aspects of C/Ev/A engineering and being anC/Ev/A engineer that appeal to you and do not appeal to you.” A rubric was used to score theextent to which the students indicated that helping people was a motivation toward engineering.The self-stated intent of the student to continue in their major or change major was noted, as wellas their actual major in September 2013.Results: The reflective essays demonstrated a wide range in the extent to which studentsconsidered that CE/AE/EvE made a difference in people’s lives (Table 1). Many of the AEstudents failed to mention this even in their definitions of the profession. In contrast, almost allof the CE and EvE students indicated that these disciplines improve the quality of life for people.In some of the EvE essays this seemed to be an inadvertent consequence of benefitting theenvironment, as humans were merely part of having a “better world for all species.” Percentage of Female Students Course Student 0 1 2 3 N Not Mentioned that engineers Important that Primary mentioned help people but unclear that engineering can motivation to it is personally important help people help people CE 46 7 24 35 35 AE 12 50 17 25 8 EvE 34 3 24 41 32Of the students who indicated that their primarily reason for selecting the major was to make apositive difference in people’s lives (level 3 on the rubric), 50% persisted in CE, AE, or EvEdisciplines, 11% transferred to other College of Engineering disciplines, and 39% transferred to anon-engineering discipline. For some, this student quotes sums it up best: “I enjoy helpingothers; that is the main reason why I considered engineering. I have learned that engineeringdoes not fulfill this need enough for me.” The full paper will explore courses that studentsindicated impacted their views of engineering and how it serves society, primarily the intro-ductory engineering course, engineering projects course, and humanities/social science electives.

Bielefeldt, A. R. (2014, June), Does Engineering Attract or Repel Female Students Who Passionately Want to Help People? Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20333

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