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Intersections of Gender and Race in Engineering Education

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Recruitment & Retention of Women I

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.953.1 - 22.953.11

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Litzler University of Washington

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Elizabeth Litzler is the Director for Research at the UW Center for Workforce Development (CWD). Her research interests include the educational climate for undergraduate and graduate students and gender stratification in education and the workforce. As the Director for Research at CWD, Liz is the Research Manager for the Sloan-funded Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE). She is external evaluator for NCWIT and NCWIT-Extension Services for Undergraduate Programs and the NSF ADVANCE program at UW. She is a member of the American Sociological Association, the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and WEPAN. She acts as reviewer and presenter for WEPAN and ASEE conferences and has published in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering and The Journal about Women in Higher Education. Litzler earned a Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology and a B.A. in Communication with minors in Spanish and Women's Studies. Her dissertation, “Sex Segregation in Undergraduate Engineering Majors” was focused on understanding the individual and institutional reasons women are disproportionately represented in certain engineering majors.

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Priti N. Mody-Pan University of Washington

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Priti N. Mody-Pan is the Deputy Director and Director of Evaluation at the Center for Workforce Development. Her responsibilities include conducting program evaluations, overseeing funded projects related to the Global Alliance, developing proposals and new contracts, conducting research projects on diversity in science and engineering, managing an international exchange program, marketing, and working with international and national organizations. Ms. Mody-Pan received her Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) and Master of Arts in International Studies (M.A.I.S.) degrees from the University of Washington and her B.A. in Political Science and East Asian Studies at Washington University, St. Louis.

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Suzanne G. Brainard University of Washington

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Suzanne G. Brainard, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Center for Workforce Development (CWD) at the University of Washington. She is an Affiliate Professor in Human-Centered Design & Engineering in the College of Engineering and an Affiliate Professor in the Department of Women Studies in the College of Arts & Sciences.

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Not All Women are the Same: Student Experiences in EngineeringWomen in general are often thought of as a group, all with similar perceptions, experiences andbeliefs. Yet, women in fact, are represented by multiple cultures, races, ethnicities, perceptionsand experiences. This study clearly illustrates women of different racial/ethnic backgroundsexperience engineering in different ways. The focus is on women studying engineering in theundergraduate academic environment, the need to recognize that changes are needed in theengineering classrooms, and the need to think about women as a diverse group. Femaleundergraduate engineering students are typically studied as a monolith with little attention beingpaid to the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender. Some researchers consider this dualminority status to be a “double-bind” (Malcom, Hall, Brown, 1976) while other researchers lookat how attributes of certain under-represented racial backgrounds offer advantages to femalestudents in STEM fields (Hanson, 2007).Despite continued calls for disaggregated data on race and gender, few datasets have detaileddata on student experiences with sufficient representation of underrepresented minorities tofacilitate statistical analysis. Past qualitative studies of women of color in science andengineering (Johnson, 2007; Tate & Linn, 2005) have shown that feelings of difference andvisibly looking different impact the way women act in the classroom and with professors. Forexample, some students feel less inclined to ask questions in class for fear of being rebuked bythe professor or being perceived as dumb either by the instructor of by peers. These feelingsmay be amplified by gender or racial stereotypes (Johnson, 2007).Using data from 21 schools that participated in the 2008 Project to Assess Climate inEngineering survey, we examine the experiences of women in undergraduate engineeringmajors, with specific attention to the effect of race. The specific area of focus is to explore thedifferences or similarities that exist between women of different race/ethnic groups with respectto their perceptions and engagement with faculty and in classrooms, where students begin theirengineering careers.Preliminary results show some interesting and statistically significant differences among womenby race/ethnicity. T-test comparisons of means indicate that African American women reportgreater comfort asking questions in class and meeting professors for help than Hispanic, NativeAmerican, Asian American and White women. Meanwhile, Native American women are lesslikely than all other racial/ethnic groups to indicate comfort meeting with professors and askingquestions in class. Even though African American women indicate greater comfort askingquestions in class, they have a lower opinion that professors are good teachers compared toHispanic, Native American and White women. In addition, while many of the women in thestudy come from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, African American women are themost likely to report that they have been singled out unfairly in class because of theirrace/ethnicity: almost six times as likely as Hispanic women, five times as likely as NativeAmerican women and almost eight times as likely as Asian American women. Additionalresults, implications, and recommendations for the academic environment will be reported in thefull paper.

Litzler, E., & Mody-Pan, P. N., & Brainard, S. G. (2011, June), Intersections of Gender and Race in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC.

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