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Gendered Experience of Engineering Knowledge in Military Technology Class

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Military and Veterans Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Military and Veterans

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Paper Authors


Jae Hoon Lim University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Jae Hoon Lim is a Professor of Research Methods at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Dr. Lim’s research explores the intersection of gender, race, and class in STEM education and highlights the dialogical process of identity construction across various groups of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. She has served as a co-PI and qualitative evaluator for multiple federal grants supporting engineering program innovation and diverse workforce development. Her recent research focuses on student veterans' civilian transition experiences through higher education.

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Peter Thomas Tkacik University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Peter Tkacik is a Professor of mechanical engineering within the motorsports focus area. His largest area of research is in the engagement of military veteran engineering college students through hands-on learning activities and exciting visual and experiential research programs. Other research activities are related to the details of the visual and experiential programs and relate to race car aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics, color-Schlieren shock and compressible flow imaging, and flows around multiple bodies in tandem.

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Jerry Lynn Dahlberg Jr University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Jerry Dahlberg is an Assistant Teaching Professor and Chair of the College of Engineering Senior Design Committee at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He received a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering Science in 2014, M.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 2016 and PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2018 from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Jerry retired from the Army in 2010 as a Sergeant First Class. .

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Arna Erega The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Arna Erega is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the Counselor
Education and Supervision Program. Her research focuses primarily on the needs and challenges international students experience in the U.S., counseling of student-athlete populations, and experiences of student veterans in higher education. She serves as a Research Assistant at UNC Charlotte as part of an Office of Naval Research grant supporting student veterans and engineering curriculum innovation.

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Background: The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) developed an undergraduate elective course (ENGR 3999), a novel curriculum innovation, to support veteran recruitment and retention. The course was designed to engage student veterans and other undergraduate students with hands-on military-based laboratory experiences. The class is available to all engineering students but mostly taken by Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Technology students. This study explores how male and female students evaluated the importance, relevance, and authenticity of knowledge presented by instructors and TAs in the course. Through social constructivist and standpoint feminist theories, we inspected gender differences, especially how female students in the course constructed positive meanings from their learning experiences while managing the tension between their care/responsibility-oriented moral stance and the combat-related course content.

Method: Our study is an ethnographic study, a qualitative, naturalistic, and holistic inquiry method using multiple data collection methods and inductive analysis, and drawing cultural interpretations of a social phenomenon. Ethnographic research was a logical fit for our study, aiming to examine the cultural tension in female students’ experiences in a traditionally male-dominated environment. This study is based on 131 undergraduate students (2015-2019), four veteran Teaching Assistants, and the course instructor. The research team conducted a thematic analysis and elicited preliminary findings summarized below.

Results: Male and female students shared several predispositions that motivated them to enroll in the course, including interest in military-related topics, personal connections to the military, and desire to learn about employment opportunities. Male students’ motivations reflected “an individual focus” (Severiens et al., 1998, p. 330), emphasizing their own learning processes and perspectives (e.g., I enjoy a military topic). However, female students’ narratives exhibited a responsibility-orientation guided by relationships and a desire to minimize pain (Gilligan, 1982). All students recognized the value of gaining tangible knowledge of military technology through hands-on labs facilitated by Teaching Assistants with prior military experience. While both male and female students viewed their TAs as reliable sources of knowledge, each reached such conclusions differently. Male students viewed TAs with prior military experience as legitimate holders of knowledge based on their proximity to the reality of military technology. In contrast, female students emphasized the value of building relationships with their TAs and knowing the “personal side” of the technologies that added a sense of reciprocal caring and made the course content more meaningful (Baker & Leary, 1995).

Conclusion: This study provides important insights into gender differences between male and female students’ evaluation of legitimate engineering knowledge. Findings also illustrate how some engineering content knowledge can pose a dilemma to female students whose moral development promotes the ideals of caring and responsibility. This study also clarifies female students' active role to resolve the existing tension between their care/responsibility-oriented dispositions and combat-related course content by constructing relational connection/trust with their instructors. Ultimately, this study suggests that student learning is deeply interrelated to holistic development for emerging professionals who can make a meaningful connection with new knowledge.

Lim, J. H., & Tkacik, P. T., & Dahlberg, J. L., & Erega, A. (2021, July), Gendered Experience of Engineering Knowledge in Military Technology Class Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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