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More than Increased Numbers: A Mentoring Program for Females in Science and Engineering

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session - Retention Programs for Diverse Students

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic

ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Lisa Carlson South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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Lisa Carlson is the Director for Women in Science and Engineering at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Ms. Carlson earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration- Marketing, at Black Hills State University, and her Master of Business Administration at Chadron State College. Working mainly with women's issues at the university, Ms. Carlson established a women's mentoring program for all first year students and recently established a women's center - the first of its kind on any South Dakota university campus.

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Shaobo Huang South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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Dr. Shaobo Huang is an Assistant Professor and the Stensaas Endowed STEM Chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. Her research interests include student retention and academic performance in engineering, student achievement evaluation and assessment, and K-12 STEM curriculum design.

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Cassandra M Birrenkott South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cassandra Degen received her B.S. degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2007. She received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying mechanochemical reactions of a spiropyran mechanophore in polymeric materials under shear loading. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where her research interests include novel manufacturing and characterization techniques of polymer and composite structures and the incorporation of multifunctionality by inducing desired responses to mechanical loading.

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Sarah Folsland Woment in Science and Engineering

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More than increased numbers: A mentoring program for the females in science and engineering

In response to the Engineer of 2020, the mechanical engineering (ME) department established five goals in 2010, one of which is to increase enrollment at the undergraduate level by 25%. The focus of this recruitment effort was diversity, particularly the recruitment of women to our particular program. Aligning with the goal, the following objectives were developed.

Objective 1: Increase the enrollment and retention of the female engineering students. Objective 2: Improve female students’ attitudes and perceptions toward careers in engineering fields. Objective 3: Enhance female students’ self-efficacy in the learning of engineering. Objective 4: Increase the six-year graduation rate of female students (currently at 53% for the university).

Therefore, over the last three years, the ME department has implemented a series of interventions to address the objectives. First, the department implemented measures to bring more engineering career exposure to young women, group women students together to provide lateral support, and, working with NSF through a grant, provide scholarship funds to those with financial need. Additionally, the department initiated a comprehensive women’s mentoring program in the fall of 2012 for women students only. This program partners entering freshmen with a current female student (sophomore-senior) to informally mentor them, and mentors/mentees form a cohort of one mentor to a minimum of three mentees. The mentoring program also provides professional development activities and online social media support groups. The professional development activities include a two-day professional development camp for all mentors and mentees on campus, as a first opportunity for mentoring cohorts to connect and also to provide personal and professional development. The program also supports student travel to professional conferences. The department mentoring program produced an overall undergraduate enrollment of 615 students as of Fall 2013 (a 54% increase over the Fall 2010), with an overall women undergraduate enrollment of fifty-six students (a 100% increase).

Due to the initiative's significant success, the department mentoring program was extended to all female engineering students on campus through the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program in Fall 2014. The LAESE survey is adapted to assess the female students’ engineering self-efficacy and perceptions towards science and engineering careers. The enrollment and retention data were also collected. Descriptive and comparison analyses are employed to analyze the preliminary data. One year into the mentoring program as a campus-wide initiative, first time freshmen women’s retention held steady at 81% while retention for men dropped from 76% to 74%. Enrollment for first time freshmen women students, which had been down fall 2014, increased by over 8% for fall 2015. The program addresses challenges faced by women in entering STEM fields, graduating and staying in STEM professions, and advancing to corporate leadership roles.

Carlson, L., & Huang, S., & Birrenkott, C. M., & Folsland, S. (2016, June), More than Increased Numbers: A Mentoring Program for Females in Science and Engineering Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25754

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