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Monolith Or Mosaic: Using Demographics And Detailed Surveys To Understand The Many And Varied Dimensions Of First Year Female Engineering Students

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Early College Retention Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.945.1 - 10.945.13



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Paper Authors

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Stephen Silliman

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Mark Gunty

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Leo McWilliams

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Carrie Graf

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John Uhran

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Catherine Pieronek

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

Session 1991

Monolith or Mosaic: Using Demographics and Detailed Surveys to Understand the Many and Varied Dimensions of First-Year Female Engineering Students

Catherine Pieronek, Leo H. McWilliams, Stephen E. Silliman, John J. Uhran, Mark Gunty, Carrie Graf

University of Notre Dame


The observation of substantially different retention rates of men versus women in a required first-year, two-course “Introduction to Engineering Systems” sequence at the University of Notre Dame motivated an examination of demographic and survey data to assess retention patterns. In the course of examining these data, it became evident that different sub-groups of women exhibit different retention patterns.

We have used demographic data such as SAT scores and intended major for several years to establish baseline characteristics of first-year engineering students. We have used results- oriented data such as exam scores and GPAs to establish how well students or groups of students perform in the class. More recently, a series of three surveys conducted during the two-course sequence has provided a wealth of information that further informs the significance of the demographic and results-oriented data. Longitudinal comparison of the data also helps to identify key differences from one year to another.

As an example of the utility of these data sources for improving retention, we consider the retention of women within the first-year engineering sequence. By reviewing the original student applications for admission to Notre Dame, we observed that women who identified engineering as an intended major were retained at a rate that closely resembled the retention rate of men, while women who indicated a non-engineering major but nevertheless enrolled in the two-course sequence were historically retained at a significantly lower rate. Yet, in examining results-oriented data such as standardized test scores or course grades, we observed no significant difference between engineering intents and non-engineering intents. These observations led to the conclusion that, because the two groups possess similar entry-level skills and perform similarly well in class, other, less tangible factors impact retention. Adding the three in-class surveys has allowed us to identify a number of areas of statistically significant differences between these two groups, including: their motivations for considering the study of engineering; their pre-college engineering-related experiences; their initial post-graduate plans; and their concerns over roadblocks to completing the engineering degree.

In developing and assessing retention efforts, these data help us to go beyond simply counting

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Silliman, S., & Gunty, M., & McWilliams, L., & Graf, C., & Uhran, J., & Pieronek, C. (2005, June), Monolith Or Mosaic: Using Demographics And Detailed Surveys To Understand The Many And Varied Dimensions Of First Year Female Engineering Students Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14755

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