June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Women in Engineering
13.632.1 - 13.632.9
From Our Perspective: Undergraduate and Faculty Women in Electrical and Computer Engineering Programs on Recruitment, Retention, and What Really Works
Women remain significantly under-represented in undergraduate electrical and computer engineering (ECE) degree programs in the U.S.; in recent years, their representation has eroded further. We are a group of women undergraduate students and faculty in ECE at a public university with one of the largest engineering programs in the U.S. In this paper, we present our perspective on why women are under-represented in undergraduate ECE programs: we examine some of the previously cited reasons for women’s persistent under-representation and provide evidence for efforts that have been effective at recruiting and retaining women students in ECE. We elucidate the often-cited “lower self-confidence” issue that remains a significant threat by focusing on fallacies (there’s something wrong with the women; they need to be fixed to have higher self-confidence) and distracting attention from the real problems that are grounded in the typical undergraduate engineering education experience. We describe results that indicate how four factors improved all students’ learning, retention and satisfaction—and dramatically increased women students’ enrollment—in our university’s first-year ECE program.
Women remain significantly under-represented in undergraduate electrical and computer engineering (ECE) degree programs; recently, they comprise an even smaller proportion of the overall shrinking enrollment. In the United States in 2006, women earned only 14.2% of the electrical engineering (EE) bachelor’s degrees (down from 14.8% in 2002) and only 11.2% of the computer engineering (CE) bachelor’s degrees (down from 12.8% in 2002)1,2. In 2006-2007 at our university (one of the larger engineering institutions in the U.S.), women earned only 8.8% of the EE and 2.0% of the CE bachelor’s degrees3.
Women’s persistent under-representation in ECE is a combination of two factors: (i) not entering the field; and, (ii) leaving the field. The primary reasons cited in the literature include: unfriendly environments4-9, dearth of role models5-8, loss-of/lower self-confidence7, gender-role socialization4, 10-11, undesirable geek culture4,10, and stereotypes4,5, 12-20. In this paper we focus on three previously published studies that we believe are most germane.
Margolis and Fisher describe a “nexus of confidence and interest” on women’s declining enrollment and persistence in undergraduate computing degree programs (e.g. CE, computer science)4. The authors indicate that they do not attribute this to any weakness or shortcoming in the women students; instead, they state that the factors that require improvement are associated with institutional culture, curriculum, and faculty-student relations. However, the specific nature of these factors is not described because the scope of the study was limited. Their research is based on how the women are feeling about their choices and about their decision to stay or leave. Women students report negative feelings in response to poor performance (getting bad grades) and why they think that is (“everyone knows more than me” interpreted within the context of the
Malady, A., & Bopp, W., & Jones, A., & McNair, B., & Norris, K., & Bell, A. (2008, June), From Our Perspective: Undergraduate And Faculty Women In Electrical And Computer Engineering Programs On Recruitment, Retention, And What Really Works Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/3538
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