Asee peer logo

Help-Seeking Among Undergraduate Men and Women in Engineering

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.841.1 - 26.841.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Joanna Wolfe Carnegie Mellon University


Jaime Allen Fawcett Carnegie Mellon University

visit author page

Jaime Allen Fawcett completed her undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University in December 2014, where she received a degree in Professional Writing and an additional degree in Creative Writing. Her research interests include pedagogical practices, educational policy, and cultural attitudes that influence learning and development for students with specific learning disabilities.

visit author page

author page

Elizabeth A. Powell Tennessee Technological University

Download Paper |


Help Seeking Strategies for Undergraduate Men and Women in EngineeringAmong the many factors that can inhibit women’s success in STEM is a fear that asking for helpwill reflect negatively on one’s gender. However, asking for help is a behavior that needs to beencouraged, both in school and the workplace. Not only does asking for help increase learningopportunities, but it can be the most efficient means to address problems. Some research hasfound that recent graduates wait too long to ask for help in the workplace, resulting in lowquality work and inefficient processes. More research is needed to understand the factors thatmotivate or hinder both male and female students from seeking help.To learn more about students’ help-seeking behaviors, we interviewed and surveyed 66undergraduate engineering students. The interviews gauged the extent to which students reachedout to resources such as their professors and peers and their comfort level seeking help fromthese resources.Preliminary results suggest the following:(1) Women (more than men) voiced fears that professors would see them as unintelligent for requesting help: 55% of the women mentioned a fear of appearing stupid or unintelligent to their professors while only 20% of men expressed this concern.(2) Academically confident women were generally able to overcome these perception fears. Female students who indicated a high degree of academic confidence sought help from professors at the same rate as their male peers. Female students with low academic confidence were the least likely group to ask professors for help. Academic confidence had no effect on whether men sought help from professors.(3) Men were less likely than women to routinely seek help from peers. Men were more likely to express pride in their abilities to figure out problems independently, seeking help only as a last resort. Women, especially those with confidence in their social skills, were more likely to form strong academic support bonds with peers.(4) Students who routinely sought help from peers were less likely to report thoughts of leaving engineering.(5) Women generally sought help from a greater number of resources than men. Women reported utilizing a greater number of resources for seeking help than men, including professors, peers, other faculty members, teaching assistants and tutors.(6) Most students, including those comfortable asking professors for help with academic work, were reluctant to ask professors for help in troubleshooting team problems. Many students stated providing advice or assistance on teamwork was not the professor’s responsibility.These results suggest several potential interventions. First, women do possess some positivehelp-seeking strategies, but the engineering culture may need to change to recognize thesestrategies as positive and professional behaviors—behaviors that male students might benefitfrom emulating. Second, female students may need some additional coaching to make themmore comfortable in seeking help from professors. Finally, if one of the goals of an engineeringcurriculum is to teach teamwork skills, we should encourage students (and faculty) to seetroubleshooting team problems as a faculty responsibility.

Wolfe, J., & Fawcett, J. A., & Powell, E. A. (2015, June), Help-Seeking Among Undergraduate Men and Women in Engineering Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24178

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015