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How Students Choose Their Engineering Major: Effects of Gender and Race or Ethnicity

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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: Pre-college Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.860.1 - 26.860.13



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Paper Authors

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Christine Valle Georgia Institute of Technology

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Tia Jackson-Truitt


Wendy C. Newstetter Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr Wendy C. Newstetter is the Director of Educational Research and Innovation in the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech.

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How Students Choose their Engineering Major: Effects of Gender and Race or EthnicityThe under-representation of women and minorities in STEM fields has long been knownand studied in the hopes of developing best practices to remedy the situation, both in theK-12 system and higher education. However the picture differs dramatically dependingon specific STEM majors, and even within engineering itself: from biomedical orenvironmental engineering which typically are near parity; to electrical or computerengineering which tend to hover around high single digits. Because the numbers of suchstudents are typically low in most engineering programs, statistically significant resultsare impossible to achieve without blending together all engineering majors, or collectingdata from multiple institutions. But this necessarily muddies the picture and providesquestionable results at best regarding the rationale behind students’ choices andexperiences in those majors.Our institution is fortunate to produce both large numbers overall of engineers, as well asfemale and minority engineers. As such, it is an ideal environment to conduct a morefine-grained analysis of why students choose the majors they do. This study follows anextensive online survey-based analysis conducted on the entire engineeringundergraduate population at our institution, and presents results from semi-structuredinterviews on engineering students, conducted by other engineering students and lookingat the effects of gender, race, and other factors to determine the rationale behind students’choices.The hope is to better educate and train advisors in more effectively steering our studentsinto their best major, in effect saving time and money for students, our institution and ourstate.

Valle, C., & Jackson-Truitt, T., & Newstetter, W. C. (2015, June), How Students Choose Their Engineering Major: Effects of Gender and Race or Ethnicity Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24197

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