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Finding the Rainbow Needles in the Engineering Haystack: Connecting with a Hard-to-Reach Population

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2018 ASEE Zone IV Conference


Boulder, Colorado

Publication Date

March 25, 2018

Start Date

March 25, 2018

End Date

March 27, 2018

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Robyn Sandekian University of Colorado, Boulder

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Robyn Sandekian is the Managing Director of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities (MCEDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder). She joined the Engineering for Developing Communities Program (now known as the Mortenson Center) in spring 2004, just as the first EDC graduate track was approved. With MCEDC, her main duties have included student advising and academic program development.

Recently, she co-developed the curriculum for the new Minor in Global Engineering offered by the CU Boulder College of Engineering and Applied Science starting in fall 2016.

Dr. Sandekian earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder, a Specialist in Education (Ed. S.) degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from the University of Northern Colorado, and her Ph.D. in Higher Education Student Affairs Leadership at the University of Northern Colorado in December 2017.

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Increasing diversity among faculty, students, and working professionals within engineering has been a longstanding goal of engineering professional societies, universities, and government organizations. However, progress has been slow and uneven across groups with diverse identities and across disciplinary specialty areas within engineering. In response, in 2015 and 2016, more than 175 engineering deans signed the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Engineering Deans Council (EDC) Diversity Initiative Letter to support efforts to increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering education endeavors across the United States of America (United States). In that letter, the signatories pledged to provide “educational experiences that are inclusive and prevent marginalization of any groups of people because of visible or invisible differences” (American Society of Engineering Education Deans Council, 2015, para. 3, emphasis mine). Since diversity has been historically understood and measured in terms of ethnic, racial, and gender representation, the ASEE EDC Diversity Initiative Letter highlighted the importance of increasing the representation of those demographic groups.

However, women and racial/ethnic minorities are not the only groups that have been underrepresented in engineering. Visible and invisible differences also encompass dissimilarities of sexual and gender identity, a topic that has been frequently overlooked in the context of engineering. Sexual minorities are individuals with non-heterosexual sexual orientations including, for example, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer/questioning, asexual/aromantic, or others (LGBQA). Gender minorities are individuals whose gender identity does not match their gender assigned at birth (transgender) or who do not meet the socially constructed binary of male/female including queer, non-binary, or intersex. The lack of data regarding engineers who identify across these spectrums of sexuality and gender identity has limited the full picture of existing diversity in engineering. It has also left unanswered the question of whether additional efforts focused on a broader definition of diversity would be necessary to access an untapped resource that might widen the pipeline of potential future engineers and reverse the stagnation/decline of entry into, and persistence within, the field.

This paper will discuss lessons learned from the author’s recent dissertation work focused on the experiences of tenure track engineering faculty who identify as sexual minorities, with a particular focus on the methodological challenges of sampling a hard-to-reach, stigmatized population in the highly masculine, heteronormative discipline of engineering.

Sandekian, R. (2018, March), Finding the Rainbow Needles in the Engineering Haystack: Connecting with a Hard-to-Reach Population Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Zone IV Conference, Boulder, Colorado. 10.18260/1-2--29615

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