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Gendered Socialization during the First Semester: Contrasting Experiences of Male and Female Transfer/Non-traditional Engineering Students

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD XI: Tidbits and Cookies

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.665.1 - 25.665.15



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Paper Authors


Peter Thomas Tkacik University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Peter Tkacik is an Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering within the motorsports focus area. His largest area of research is in the engagement of high school students and early career 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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Jae Hoon Lim University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Jae Hoon Lim is an Assistant Professor of research methods at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and she teaches introductory and advanced research method courses in the College of Education. Her research interests include socio-cultural issues in mathematics education and various equity topics in STEM fields. She has served as a Lead Investigator for multiple international and comparative educational research and evaluation projects. She published more than 30 articles in scholarly and professional journals world-wide and authored seven book or monograph chapters.

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Patricia A. Tolley P.E. University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Patricia A. Tolley, Ph.D., P.E., is Associate Dean for undergraduate experiences in the Lee College of Engineering at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Her responsibilities include the introductory engineering and engineering technology courses, a large freshman residential learning community and peer retention program, a junior/senior multidisciplinary professional development course, student leadership academy, employer relations and industry-sponsored senior design, and ABET and SACS accreditation. Her research focuses on engineering education research using quantitative methodologies.

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Kimberly Warren University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Kimberly Warren is an Assistant Professor of civil and environmental engineering with a specialty in geotechnical engineering. Her civil engineering research projects typically involve testing geosynthetic materials, as well as instrumenting and monitoring large-scale civil engineering structures constructed with geosynthetic inclusions to determine their performance behaviors in the field. Warren has more recently become involved in the educational research arena and is currently implementing classroom innovations in a core civil engineering undergraduate course to determine and assess the impact of interactive learning as part of a course, curriculum, and laboratory improvement grant.

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Gendered Socialization during the First Semester: Contrasting Experiences of Male and Female Transfer/Non-traditional Engineering StudentsAs part of a larger multi-year mixed-method research that examined the attitudes, perceptions,and experience of engineering students, this paper presents an in-depth qualitative analysis of 15transfer and/or non-traditional engineering students. This study is part of a comprehensive, long-term effort to improve recruitment and retention strategies for freshman engineering students at alarge urban public university located in the Southeast. Findings from the 15 transfer/non-traditional students are contextualized in a larger qualitative study that included a total of 92freshman engineering student interviews collected between 2009 and 2010.During the last two decades, there has been growing public consensus that it is vital to prepare aqualified engineering workforce that will generate a profound impact upon the nation’s economyand prosperity.1 Based on the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections2 thedemand for qualified engineering graduates nation-wide will grow 11% between 2008 and 2018,yet the actual number of engineering graduates remained relatively unchanged since 2005.3Contradictory to the long-held belief that the engineering fields suffer from low retention rates,most recent studies confirmed that the retention rates of engineering students is relatively higherthan other majors (e.g., Ohlands et al., 2008). Researchers concluded that the staggering numberof qualified engineering graduates is primarily based on the extremely low rate of inwardmigration: A very small number of students who matriculated in other majors transfer toengineering fields. However, very few research studies have explored the first–year transitionexperience of transfer/non-traditional engineering students. Therefore, there is a significant lackof existing literature addressing this important group of students who might play a critical role inmeeting society’s demand for competent and qualified engineering graduates.In total, 92 engineering students attending an introductory engineering class were interviewedbetween fall 2009 and early spring 2011. The entire student sample consisted of 73 males and 19females. 68 Caucasians, 11 Asians including four Middle Eastern students, six African-Americans, five Hispanics, and one Native-American and one unspecified were interviewed.Seventy-eight interviews were conducted as individual interviews while seven interviews wereconducted as pair interviews or in a group of three students. Both types of interviews took about25 to 90 minutes and were also based on a semi-structured interview protocol listing several keyquestions about their major/transfer decisions and transition experiences. All interviews wereaudio-recorded and subsequently transcribed verbatim. In addition to the student interview data,other types of qualitative data, such as document, classroom observation, and interview--werealso collected and used as supporting data bases.After the initial thematic analysis5 of all 92 students was completed, the research team conducteda more focused analysis with the 15 transfer/non-traditional students. The thematic analysis wasconducted to identify major commonalities and differences in their transfer decision andtransition experiences of two target groups of students, male and female transfer/non-traditionalstudents. The male and female transfer/non-traditional students listed different factors for theirtransfer decision: The majority of female students referred to their previous academic advisorand/or faculty member as an important figure who influenced or supported their transfer decision.About a half of the male transfer/non-traditional students referred to their prior engineering-related work or intership experience as an important factor for their transfer decision.Furthermore, the transition experience of male and female students exhibited a sharp contrast.Male transfer and non-traditional students found themselves receiving respect from youngerstudents, while still being able to connect with “like-minded” individuals with whom he couldestablish “study relationships.” In contrast, female transfer and non-traditional students felt theywere “so out of the loop” and that “there was something missing” in their program experience.They found it hard to build a new support network on campus, yet they also showed greatdetermination and goal-orientation; some expressed a strong desire to serve people and societyby majoring engineering. Findings derived from the thematic analysis of the whole 77 traditionalengineering student interview data were also used to contextualize the unique aspects of thetransfer/non-traditional students’ transition experience and perspectives.This qualitative study provides a valuable insight into the transition experience of transfer andnon-traditional engineering students. In particular, our study highlights the unique challengesfaced by female transfer and non-traditional students during their transition period whilerevealing their resilience and persistency as reflected in their coping strategies. Findings revealthat the curriculum, learning environment, and support networks are critical components inshaping the transfer/non-traditional students’ attitudes, perceptions, and experiences, all of whichinfluence their decision and persistency to remain in the major. References1. Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-11 edition. Retrieved December 17, 2010 from Gibbons, M. (n.d.) Engineering by the numbers. Retrieved December 17, 2010 from engineering-statistics.pdf.4. Ohland, M. W., Sheppard, S. D., Lightenstein, G., Eris, O., Chachra, D., & Layton, R. A. (2008). Persistence, engagement, and migration in engineering programs. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(3), 259-278.5. Ezzy, D. (2002). Qualitative analysis: Practice and innovation. London: Routledge.

Tkacik, P. T., & Lim, J. H., & Tolley, P. A., & Warren, K. (2012, June), Gendered Socialization during the First Semester: Contrasting Experiences of Male and Female Transfer/Non-traditional Engineering Students Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21422

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