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Increasing Retention Of Women Engineering Students

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Retention Programs for Women Students

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.879.1 - 12.879.15



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Paper Authors


Kieran Sullivan Santa Clara University

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Kieran T. Sullivan is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Santa Clara University and a licensed clinical psychologist. She provides professional consultations on assessment and statistical analyses and has taught Psychological Assessment for ten years. Dr. Sullivan received her PhD from UCLA and conducts research on marital education and support processes in marriage.

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Ruth Davis Santa Clara University

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Ruth E. Davis is the Robert W. Peters Professor of Computer Engineering and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Engineering at Santa Clara University. Her dissertation Correct Programs From Logic Specifications won the 1979 ACM Doctoral Forum Award for Outstanding Ph.D. Thesis in Computer Science. Dr. Davis was named a Distinguished Member of the ACM in fall 2006. She has done research in formal methods in software engineering and has been involved in several activities to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Increasing Retention of Women Engineering Students


This paper reports the results of a study carried out over several years to determine the factors predicting success for women engineering students at Santa Clara University. We examined psychosocial factors, such as commitment to engineering and confidence in engineering abilities, as well as the effect of a specific intervention on the retention rate of young women engineering students.

Studies have shown that among students with adequate aptitude for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), girls drop out more often than boys. Several programs have been developed to encourage girls to persevere in their interests in STEM fields. In the summer of 1999, SCU hosted a National Science Foundation workshop[1] gathering directors of such programs to share their experience and insights. Forty-four people representing over 30 STEM programs for girls in the United States and Canada met to share the successes and challenges they had witnessed in their programs. We applied the experience gained in the workshop discussions in developing a questionnaire to assess psychosocial factors that appeared to be related to the retention of women engineering undergraduates. Exploratory factor analyses and reliability analyses confirmed that our newly-developed measure reliably assessed nine factors that had been suggested as important for retention: commitment, confidence, the value of engineering, computer interest, beliefs that anyone can succeed in engineering, family support, social perceptions, and perceptions of bias in the field of engineering.

Equipped with this new measure, we then designed an intervention aimed at enhancing the students’ view of themselves as “techies.” Each young woman received a handheld computer, and agreed to complete surveys regarding her use of the computer and to meet with the other students to share experiences, evaluate the computer’s capabilities, and imagine ways it could be improved.

We tracked the graduation rates and degrees earned by these students and compared them with women engineering majors who came before and after this cohort. Four-year and six-year graduation rates were higher for the intervention cohort (54% and 69%, respectively) than for comparison cohorts (48% and 57%, respectively)

The Problem

“Every time an engineering problem is approached with a pale, male design team, it may be difficult to find the best solution, understand the design options, or know how to evaluate the constraints.”9

Dr. Wm. A. Wulf, as President of the National Academy of Engineering, often spoke of the problem of lack of diversity in engineering. He pointed to the need for a diversity of perspective and experience in order to avoid the opportunity loss of designs not considered, constraints not

Sullivan, K., & Davis, R. (2007, June), Increasing Retention Of Women Engineering Students Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2332

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