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Leadership and Service Learning Improves Confidence of Engineering Skills in Women

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Retention of Women Students II

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.878.1 - 25.878.16



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Paper Authors


Jennifer Wang University of California, Berkeley

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Jennifer Wang is a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, studying engineering education. She has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and computer science. Currently, she does research with the Lawrence Hall of Science, a public science center.

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Eli Patten University of California, Berkeley Orcid 16x16

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Ryan Shelby University of California, Berkeley

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Farzana Ansari University of California, Berkeley


Lisa A. Pruitt University of California, Berkeley

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Lisa Pruitt received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and materials engineering from the University of Rhode Island in 1998. In 1993, Pruitt received her Ph.D. in engineering from Brown University and then joined the faculty of mechanical engineering at UC, Berkeley. She is renowned for her work in orthopedic biomaterials, medical devices, and mechanical assessment of structural tissues. She recently co-authored a textbook entitled “Mechanics of Biomaterials: Fundamental Principles for Implant Design.” Pruitt is an advocate of engineering education and outreach through research experiences. Her research in biomaterials has served as the foundation for outreach education, service learning and mentoring activities. In 2006, Professor Pruitt organized the first National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) on the Berkeley campus, and she remains the campus liaison for this nationally recognized program targeted at high school students interested in engineering. Pruitt is the Faculty Advisor for the Engineering for Kids day at UC, Berkeley, which brings in nearly 300 children to the campus for an annual daylong event of engineering activities with Berkeley undergraduates enrolled in the College of Engineering. For more than a decade, she has worked closely with the Lawrence Hall of Science to develop interactive exhibits including the Human Body Shop, BodyBuilders, and Body by Design within the framework of her engineering courses that are targeted to the K-12 sector. She has received numerous awards for her mentoring and engineering education activities including the UC Berkeley Presidential Chairs Teaching Fellowship (2010), Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of Graduate Student Instructors (2009), Lawrence Talbot Chaired Professorship in Engineering (2007), and the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (2004).

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Leadership and Service Learning Improves Engineering Skills in WomenAs part of an undergraduate first-year engineering course, a five-week module on leadership wasoffered in addition to two other modules focused on more traditional engineering topics,bioengineering and mechanical engineering. Students chose two out of the three modules toenroll in. The leadership module presented mechanisms for developing professional skills andalso provided hands-on application of these skills through K-12 service learning at a localscience museum. Because women tend to be drawn to engineering sectors that give back tosociety, we hypothesized that the confidence levels of women would reflect the benefit of theleadership and service learning module.To assess the impact of the module, we developed a survey based on eleven ABET criteria:possess strong analytical skills; exhibit creativity and practical ingenuity; develop designs thatmeet needs, constraints, and objectives; identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems;possess good communication skills with multiple stakeholders; possess team skills with peoplefrom diverse backgrounds and disciplines; possess leadership and management skills; have highethical standards and a strong sense of professionalism; be dynamic, agile, resilient, flexible; beable to learn and use the techniques and tools used in engineering practice; and recognize theglobal, economic, environmental, and societal impact of engineering design and analysis. Wealso asked open-ended questions for student feedback on the course. The survey wasadministered to all students at the beginning and end of the course.Results from our pre- and post-course surveys showed that women in the leadership moduleimproved on all eleven ABET engineering skills, four of which are statistically significant (p <0.05). Conversely, women who did not participate in the module either decreased or showed nosignificant increase in each of the skills. Furthermore, while men’s confidence in theirengineering skills also improved after the leadership course, we found women in the leadershipmodule improved more than both the men that did not take the leadership module and the menthat did. Finally, qualitative responses from women indicate overwhelming appreciation for theexperience and skills gained from the leadership module, as well as an increase in confidence forwomen as engineers. The survey results suggest that including service learning activities andteaching leadership skills in an introduction to engineering course will improve the engineeringskills, confidence, and leadership abilities of women, helping them in their future courseworkand careers.

Wang, J., & Patten, E., & Shelby, R., & Ansari, F., & Pruitt, L. A. (2012, June), Leadership and Service Learning Improves Confidence of Engineering Skills in Women Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21635

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