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Gender Differences in Motivation to Perform K12 Outreach

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Issues of Outreach and Interest in Engineering

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.633.1 - 23.633.26

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Paper Authors


Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Sara A. Atwood is an Assistant Professor of Engineering and Physics at Elizabethtown College. She obtained her B.A. and M.S. from Dartmouth College and her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. Her research interests include material failure in medical devices and the recruitment and retention of women in engineering.

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Joshua M Frey Elizabethtown College

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Undergraduate Outreach Project Calls for More Male Participation in Outreach To continue our leadership role in technological innovation, the United States is callingfor 10,000 more engineering students to graduate each year. Within this number, female andethnic minority representation needs to be increased. Outreach programs are one way to interestyoung people in engineering, but most outreach is performed for, and by, these underrepresentedgroups. Engineering outreach programs where male undergraduates buy in and perform theoutreach could have a substantial impact because of the current male majority in engineering. To expose undergraduates to outreach, all undergraduates enrolled in a Strength ofMaterials course (73% male) were required to implement an outreach activity. The activity wasdesigned to teach middle school students an engineering concept while also learning about thebroad scope of engineering and what engineers do. Undergraduates engaged the students onemorning at the local middle school with hands-on activities dealing with course concepts. Prior to the outreach project, the undergraduates were given a survey regarding theirawareness of the number of females in engineering. The survey was designed to understand howwell the undergraduates recognize the need for more gender diversity in engineering and theirperceptions of the obstacles to achieving more gender diversity. After the outreach project wascompleted, a report on the demographics in the field along with an open-ended reflectionassessed the experiences of the undergraduates. The reflection was framed as a “WhatHappened?” “So what does it mean?” and “Now what will you do?” prompt. All of the responses were coded and tallied. Themes emerged illustrating maleperspectives and how they differ from female perspectives. Males had a general understanding ofthe percentage of females in engineering while females overestimated (male average guess:15.8%, female average guess: 23.3%). Males believed there are fewer women in engineeringbecause of cultural stereotypes (62% of males vs 33% of females) and personal interests (38% ofmales vs 17% of females). After the outreach, both males and females discussed the importanceof outreach projects (40% overall) and hoped to continue outreach programs after college (77%overall). A majority of both genders believed that the outreach program was successful insparking interest in the middle school students (66% overall). More males specifically thoughtthey addressed the stereotypes of engineers’ clothes (56% of males, 17% of females), nerdy-ness(38% of males, 17% of females), and gender (31% of males, 17% of females). This project exposed the undergraduate engineers, including males, to the need for morediversity in engineering through an outreach project. Males were aware of the small percentageof females in engineering, and afterwards they supported the need for outreach programs (38%of males) and would like to continue outreach programs (88% of males). Since males currentlymake up a majority of engineers, they should be educated and encouraged to reach out andsupport not only female enrollment, but diversity and growth of the field in general.

Atwood, S. A., & Frey, J. M. (2013, June), Gender Differences in Motivation to Perform K12 Outreach Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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