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Exploring the Appeal of Customizable Computing Programs to Undergraduate Women

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Marissa H. Forbes University of Colorado Boulder

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Marissa Forbes is a research associate in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder and lead editor of the TeachEngineering digital library. She previously taught middle school science and engineering and wrote K-12 STEM curricula while an NSF GK-12 graduate engineering fellow at CU. With a master’s degree in civil engineering she went on to teach advanced placement and algebra-based physics for the Denver School of Science and Technology, where she also created and taught a year-long, design-based engineering course for seniors. Forbes earned her PhD in civil engineering, with an engineering education research focus.

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She has served as the ABET assessment coordinator in the CEAE department since 2008. Professor Bielefeldt is the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where interdisciplinary students learn about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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Jacquelyn F. Sullivan University of Colorado, Boulder

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Jacquelyn Sullivan has led the multi-university TeachEngineering digital library project, now serving over 3.3M unique users (mostly teachers) annually, since its inception. She is founding co-director of the design-focused Engineering Plus degree program and CU Teach Engineering initiative in the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. With the intent of transforming engineering to broaden participation, Sullivan spearheaded design and launch of the Engineering GoldShirt Program at CU to provide a unique access pathway to engineering for high potential, next tier students not admitted through the standard admissions process; findings are very encouraging, and the program is being adapted at several other engineering colleges. Dr. Sullivan led the 2004 launch of ASEE's Pre-College Division, was conferred as an ASEE Fellow in 2011 and was awarded NAE’s 2008 Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.

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Engineering programs commonly offer students few opportunities to choose their own courses as compared to their non-engineering campus peers. A previous exploratory study found positive correlations between the extent to which engineering degree programs afford students with course choice opportunities (such as free electives, technical electives, etc.) and the percentage of their bachelor’s degrees earned by women. The results pointed to the need for additional research to ascertain whether undergraduate engineering programs can attract and graduate more women by providing more customizable degree program options. Similar to engineering, many undergraduate computing programs offer minimal course choice opportunities, thus constraining students in their ability to realize a broad and balanced education. And, a shortage of women is prevalent in undergraduate computing programs. This study delineated the course choice opportunities and balance of required technical and non-technical coursework in 37 computer science and computer engineering programs spanning 25 U.S. News & World Report top-ranked U.S. engineering colleges and looked for correlations between curricular choice, curricular balance and the percentage of bachelor’s degrees earned by women. A positive correlation was found between the computing programs’ curricular customizability and their percentage of bachelor’s degrees earned by women; a positive correlation was also found between the extent to which the computing programs afforded students opportunities for technical—non-technical curricular balance and their percentage of bachelor’s degrees earned by women. These preliminary results suggest that providing more flexible, customizable computing program options and/or opportunities to pursue a broad, balanced education may be a means of attracting more women to undergraduate computing programs.

Forbes, M. H., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Sullivan, J. F. (2017, June), Exploring the Appeal of Customizable Computing Programs to Undergraduate Women Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28334

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