June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Women in Engineering
12.879.1 - 12.879.15
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 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)
“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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