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Gender Differences In The Attitudes Of Students In Freshman Engineering Courses

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Attitudes, Self-Confidence, and Self-Efficacy of Women Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.646.1 - 14.646.11



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Paper Authors


Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is the Director of the Environmental Engineering Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering.

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



Engineering is still struggling to recruit and retain female students. Particular majors have more female students, such as environmental engineering where women earned 44.5% of the U.S. Bachelor’s degrees in the 2006-2007 academic year, compared to an average of 18.1% across all majors. The reasons for these differences are not fully understood. This study compares the attitudes of female and male students in freshmen engineering courses in relation to how engineering benefits society. These traits were assessed using written surveys administered in first year engineering courses in environmental engineering (EVEN), civil engineering (CVEN), and general engineering (GEEN) at the University of Colorado at Boulder from 2004 to 2008. The surveys began with basic demographic questions (gender, race/ethnicity, major) and then presented a series of questions that students responded to on a Likert scale. Male students had a more favorable view of engineers’ role in society than female students, based on responses to questions from the Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitudes Survey (PFEAS). Because previous studies have indicated that females want to benefit society through their work, the continuing poor perception of engineering as a helping profession among females may reflect recruiting problems. More revealing information was found in the reflective essays that the students write at the end of the semester summarizing their feelings about engineering and whether they plan to stay in the major or switch majors.


The engineering profession needs to recruit more students, and this problem is expected to worsen in the future as changing demographics in the U.S. will reduce the population from which engineering has typically recruited the most students; i.e. white males. Strong efforts to recruit and retain female students in engineering began in the 1980s with the creation of various Women in Engineering programs on campuses nationwide. While initially successful, these efforts recently appear to be losing ground. The overall average percentage of female enrollment in undergraduate engineering degrees in the U.S. of 17.24% in 2005 and 2006 has declined from the peak of 19.8% in 1999. 1 Particular majors have more female students, such as environmental engineering where women earned 44.5% of the Bachelor’s degrees in the 2006- 2007 academic year. 2 However, the percentage of females in civil engineering has remained much smaller at 24%.2 The reasons for the differences in female percentages in different majors are still not fully understood. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to improve our understanding of why some engineering majors attract and retain more female students. Specifically, this study determines if there are differences in the attitudes of female students that may account for some of this disparity in the representation of women across different engineering majors.

The national trends in gender diversity in engineering have been similar to those at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Across the entire College of Engineering, over the past 10 years the percentage of the entering freshmen who are female has ranged from a low of 14.4% in

Bielefeldt, A. (2009, June), Gender Differences In The Attitudes Of Students In Freshman Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4926

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