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Exploring Gender And Self Confidence In Engineering Students: A Multi Method Approach

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Student Attitudes and Perceptions

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.614.1 - 14.614.15



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Paper Authors


Debbie Chachra Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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DEBBIE CHACHRA is an Assistant Professor of Materials Science at the Franklin W. Olin
College of Engineering in Needham, MA. Her research interests in education include the role of gender and ethnicity on student progress in engineering education. Her scientific
research interest focuses on biological and bioderived materials.

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Deborah Kilgore University of Washington

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DEBORAH KILGORE is a Research Scientist in the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), University of Washington. Her areas of specific interest and expertise include qualitative and mixed educational research methods, adult learning theory, student development, and women in

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Exploring Gender and Self-Confidence in Engineering Students: A Multi-Method Approach


Despite generally higher academic achievement, female students display lower academic self- confidence than males. Of particular interest to engineering educators is the difference in confidence in mathematical or scientific skills. Gender differences among engineering students have been explored by the Persistence in Engineering survey, a component of the Academic Pathways Study (APS), a multi-method longitudinal study which is part of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education. This survey was administered to engineering students seven times during their college years, thus tracing students’ confidence in math and science skills over time. Men had higher self-confidence in math and science throughout the four years (p<0.05 for gender by ANOVA), even when the dataset was limited to persisters (students who completed their engineering degree in this time). Similarly, the academic self-confidence of males in their ability to solve open-ended problems was higher than that of females. Student interviews, administered during the last semester of their senior year, provide additional evidence about confidence in engineering students, with marked differences in the responses of male and female students. This multi-method approach, utilizing the rich dataset of the Academic Pathways Study, enables us to consider approaches to understanding the ‘confidence gap’ in engineering students.


Despite years of research and intervention, women continue to be underrepresented in engineering.1 Women earned less than one-fifth of the bachelor’s degrees in engineering and engineering technologies granted in the U.S. in 2004.2 One reason for the gender gap which has been explored by researchers is a gap in self-confidence, which refers to the strength of belief in one’s abilities. Previous research indicates that self-confidence plays an important role in women’s and men’s academic experiences in STEM fields.3-5 Self-confidence in math and science has been found to be positively associated with the likelihood of entry into science and engineering majors, and with persisting in science and engineering majors later in college.6-10 At the same time, there is evidence that women exhibit lower confidence in their skills and knowledge than men in areas, like math and science, which are cornerstones of engineering. Differences indicating higher confidence levels among men relative to women have been found for physics and engineering background knowledge, problem-solving, and overall engineering abilities,11 preparation and ability to perform in specific engineering courses (e.g. chemical engineering),12 as well as engineering-related technical and mechanical abilities.13

Research has also demonstrated that there is no performance or preparation lag to account for women’s lower self-confidence. For example, Felder et al. found that women’s performance in first-year college courses does not account for their lower self-confidence and grades in later courses compared to men.12 In addition, a survey of engineering faculty found that “both male and female faculty members perceive that the “academic preparation” and “study habits” of female engineering undergraduates are as good as, if not better than, those of their male peers.”14

Chachra, D., & Kilgore, D. (2009, June), Exploring Gender And Self Confidence In Engineering Students: A Multi Method Approach Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5594

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