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Exploding Pipelines: Mythological Metaphors Structuring Diversity-Oriented Engineering Education Research Agendas

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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

Myths About Gender and Race

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering, Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, and Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.684.1 - 22.684.21



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Paper Authors


Alice L. Pawley Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Alice L. Pawley is an assistant professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Women’s Studies Program at Purdue University. She has a B.Eng. in Chemical Engineering from McGill University, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering with a Ph.D. minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is Co-PI and Research Director of Purdue University’s ADVANCE program, and PI on the Assessing Sustainability Knowledge project. She runs the Research in Feminist Engineering (RIFE) group, whose projects are described at the group's website, She is interested in creating new models for thinking about gender and race in the context of engineering education. She was recently awarded a CAREER grant for the project, "Learning from Small Numbers: Using personal narratives by underrepresented undergraduate students to promote institutional change in engineering education."

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Jordana Hoegh Purdue University

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Jordana Hoegh, M.S., is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Purdue University. Her research interests include early adult life course and transitions, self and identity, sociology of the family, work and organizations, and social networks. She is currently conducting her dissertation research on the role of motherhood in the career paths of women with engineering doctorates.

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Exploding pipelines: mythological metaphors structuring diversity-oriented engineering education research agendasOver thirty years after Sue Berryman introduced the pipeline metaphor for understanding theunderrepresentation of women and people of color in STEM disciplines, the pipeline remains thedominant theoretical framework on which diversity-oriented engineering education research isbased. One might argue that the use of “pipeline” as the dominant metaphor to understand theunderrepresentation of certain groups has reached mythological proportions in both its broadreach and in how it engenders uncritical allegiance from researchers. This reliance on pipelinemetaphors continues despite considerable critique of the model argued from researchers bothinside and outside the engineering education research community. In this work, we pose andanswer some questions about the consequences of this metaphor’s predominance, including:what methodological advantages and disadvantages does this metaphor afford researchers? andhow does it help highlight or mask the lived experiences of real women working in engineeringacademic contexts? In addition, we will ask, perhaps more controversially, how might thereluctance to release pipeline theory from its hegemonic stronghold reflect engineeringeducation’s larger disciplinary reluctance to critique their current structure and reconstructthemselves into more egalitarian institutions?This paper critically explores the discourse of “pipeline” and its offshoots (including “chillyclimate”) with an aim to (re)introduce to engineering education research both the method ofdiscourse analysis as well as alternative metaphorical frameworks. This paper grounds itstheoretical discussion in the empirical data collected for [institution’s ADVANCE program andspecific study name], a research study that uses oral history methods and participatoryframeworks to collect the academic stories of white women and faculty of color in STEMdisciplines.    

Pawley, A. L., & Hoegh, J. (2011, June), Exploding Pipelines: Mythological Metaphors Structuring Diversity-Oriented Engineering Education Research Agendas Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17965

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