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Impact of COVID 19 on Self-efficacy and Retention of Women Engineering Students

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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

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Susan J. Ely University of Southern Indiana

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Dr. Ely began her academic career at the community college level, after having worked as an engineer in areas of manufacturing, distribution, logistics and supply chain. Her research interests in Supply Chain Management include optimization through resiliency, lean supply chain practices and effective instruction in supply chain for career development, professional development of educators and online practices.

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In today’s society, companies continue to need college graduates with expertise in STEM fields. In the United States, women represent half of the population, nearly 47% of the workforce and approximately 57% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded each year. However, women comprise only 20% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering fields and represent less than 20% of the domestic engineering workforce. This discrepancy can be attributed to several factors, making engineering professions seem less desirable to women, including a lack of self-efficacy and sense of belonging in both the academic and workforce environment.

As Higher Education Institutions continue to strive to support the demand for individuals to enter the intellectually rigorous STEM career paths, increased recruitment and retention of women engineering students is of critical importance. However, self-efficacy, or one’s personal belief in ability, has been previously identified as a primary barrier when recruiting women in engineering and encouraging persistence through their degree and into an engineering field. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, special programs such as mentoring, student clubs and other support structures aimed at increasing retention of female students have been either temporarily canceled, permanently removed or migrated to a virtual platform at institutions across the nation. While numerous institutions have used platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams to create virtual environments to replace face-to-face structures, are these measures as impactful in retaining women engineering students? Do the virtual measures foster the same levels of self-efficacy in women engineering students as the previously offered face-to-face interactions? Do women engineering students feel additional isolation from their peer group and perhaps question their career path when faced with an increased amount of online presence and the removal of critical programs aimed at increasing retention?

While it is impossible to know the long-term impact on women engineering students due to the pandemic at this time, it is possible to measure the immediate change in self-efficacy, sense of belonging and confidence in program of study. As each of these factors can positively or negatively impact retention, it is critical to understand how the women engineering students feel now, so that they may be supported in the upcoming months, semesters and years of their study. This study measured changes in self-efficacy, belonging and confidence of undergraduate women engineering students at a midwestern university to better understand the immediate impact of the pandemic on retention of women in engineering. Results from this study can be used to build strategies for increasing engagement and retention with women in engineering programs as universities navigate the ongoing pandemic.

Ely, S. J. (2021, July), Impact of COVID 19 on Self-efficacy and Retention of Women Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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