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Does How Pre-College Engineering and Technology Role Models See Themselves Relate to Girls' Engagement in the Fields? [Research To Practice]

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Pre-College Engineering Education Focused on Female Students

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Mary B. Isaac HEDGE Co.

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Mary Isaac retired from General Electric in 2007 as a Customer Service Executive, after 30 years in various technical and commercial roles in GE’s energy business, serving electric utility customers such as Excel, Constellation Energy, and Entergy. She has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Union College in N.Y., an M.A.T. in technology education from North Carolina A&T State University in 2011, and Ph.D. in occupational and technical studies from Old Dominion University in 2015. Isaac's consultancy, HEDGE Co., focuses on working with formal and informal educators to grow the numbers of females pursuing engineering or technology careers. Additionally, she is a conferred Fellow of the Society of Women Engineers.

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Since 2010, in collaboration with Exxon Mobil, Design Squad, and the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) designed and has conducted a large (> 500 attendees, > 100 volunteers) annual outreach event called Invent it. Build it. (IIBI) for girls at the tail end of its annual conference, leveraging the presence of the largest community of every demographic of female engineer in the world to serve as role models in whatever city the conference happens to be in that year.

This study examines the efficacy of those volunteer role models as a contributor to female student engagement in the budding community of female engineers and technologists, in particular, examining personal attributes and attitudes that role models self-report and student perceptions of a) how well the role models satisfied certain traits and b) how inspired they were by them at Invent it. Build it.

Role models complete a pre-assessment and some training focused on unconscious bias, engaging with girls, and the specific activity. The pre-assessment consists of three scales: Spence and Helmreich’s (1978) Personal Attributes Questionnaire (PAQ) to measure agency and communality, Benson and Vincent’s (1980) Sexist Attitudes Towards Women (SATW) scale to measure explicit sexism, and self-reported scores from completing the Implicit Association Tests (IATs) for Gender and Science and Gender and Career (Nosek and Greenwald, 2015), a measure of implicit sexism.

Following the event, both role models and girls complete surveys on a 5-pt response level that ask how well the role models met four attributes determined to be most important to engaging middle school females in engineering and technology: active listening (LISTEN), providing support and encouragement (SUPPORT), being approachable (APPROACH), and providing guidance (GUIDE). The girls are also asked how inspired they were by the role models they came in contact with.

Results indicate that the sample was above average in both agency and communality and below average in terms of reported explicit sexism, but with a slight automatic association of males to careers and females to home. For the Gender-Science IAT, there was a slight automatic association of females with science. In examining the correlations between role models and girls’ assessment of the four attributes (LISTEN, SUPPORT, APPROACH, GUIDE), results indicate a strong correlation between role model approachability and student inspiration, with a significant difference between each group’s rating of the role models’ approachability (lower mean from role models).

Isaac, M. B. (2019, June), Does How Pre-College Engineering and Technology Role Models See Themselves Relate to Girls' Engagement in the Fields? [Research To Practice] Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32678

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