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Gender Differences In Biological Engineering Students

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Biology in Engineering

Tagged Division

Biological & Agricultural

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.662.1 - 11.662.19



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Paper Authors

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Paul Schreuders Utah State University

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Brian Rutherford Utah State University

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Katrina Cox Utah State University

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Susan Mannon Utah State University

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

Gender Differences in Biological Engineering Students


Do gender differences exist in the interests and attitudes of biological engineering students? Un- dergraduate engineering students participated in a voluntary survey designed to help understand this issue.

First, to determine whether males and females received different academic preparation, prior to entering engineering, the survey examined mathematics, science, and technical course work tak- en in high school. Second, in acknowledgement of entering engineering students fewer “hand’s- on” mechanical skills compared to computer skills, the survey probed these areas and examined their relationship to three fundamental engineering activities (designing, building, and analyz- - cation, and type of community and their relationship to academic interests.

The survey incorporated a combination of question formats including pre-categorized demo- graphic information, a 5-point Likert scale, and open-ended responses. Data from the survey was imported directly into SPSS for statistical analysis and analyzed based on gender using crosstab frequencies, prevalence ratios, and the T-test to determine whether non-parametric scores in both genders differ. By understanding gender differences in attitudes and interests in biological engi-

Surprisingly few differences were found in the data based on gender. Based on several measures, females were equally prepared for biological and agricultural engineering when compared with males. However, differences were found in “hands-on” preparation and family background.


Since the early 1990’s the “pipeline theory” has been accepted as the dominant conceptual framework to describe the relationship between education and occupation from elementary school to initial employment 1, 2. According to the “pipeline theory” the gender gap in science and

in place to block the leakage from the pipeline at points where more women than men are lost. However, the pipeline theory has proved to be inadequate to explain the lack of success in im- proving gender equity in engineering for several reasons 1, 3-6.

First, in contrast to the recent past where most females did not graduate from high school with the necessary math and science prerequisites to enter engineering 7, girls now take as many high school science classes (although fewer take physics) and their achievement levels are roughly the same level as boys 3, 4, 8-16. Yet, their enrollment and participation in engineering remains low.

Second, a large body of empirical literature suggests, that even though women now acquire as many years of education as men do at all levels, they invest in different kinds of human capital, major in different subjects, choose different occupations; and accumulate less overall labor mar-

Schreuders, P., & Rutherford, B., & Cox, K., & Mannon, S. (2006, June), Gender Differences In Biological Engineering Students Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1037

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