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Moving Beyond the Double-Bind: WIE and MEP Programs and Serving the Needs of Women of Color in Engineering

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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

WIED Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1085.1 - 22.1085.20



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Paper Authors


Lisa M Frehill National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering

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Lisa Frehill is the Director of Research, Evaluation and Policy at the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), a Senior Program Officer with the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine at the National Research Council, and a senior analyst at Energetics Technology Center.

Since earning her doctoral degree Dr. Frehill has developed expertise in the science and engineering workforce with a focus on how gender and ethnicity impact access to careers in these fields. While she was an associate professor of sociology at New Mexico State University, she was the Principal Investigator and Program Director of the National Science Foundation funded ADVANCE: Institutional Transformation program, which sought to increase women’s recruitment, retention and advancement in academic science and engineering. She has consulted with numerous colleges and universities on gender equity issues.

More recently, Frehill has worked with the Society of Women Engineers on a study of retention in the engineering workforce and the annual review of literature on women in engineering. She was the lead author of the Motorola Foundation-funded study released by NACME in 2008 titled “Confronting the ‘New’ American Dilemma: Underrepresented Minorities in Engineering: A Data-Based Look at Diversity” and the NACME databook.

Research in progress includes projects funded by the National Science Foundation on women’s international participation and collaboration in science and engineering and on career outcomes of engineering bachelor’s degree recipients. In addition, she is working on analyses of supply and demand for engineers and scientists.

Support for this research was provided by NACME with additional support via a grant from the National Science Foundation, Research on Gender in Science and Engineering HRD#0827461. Any findings or conclusions are those of the author and do not reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

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Moving Beyond the Double-Bind: WIE and MEP Programs and Serving the Needs of Women of Color in EngineeringPolicy analysts and researchers who study the issues that face women of color often makereference to the double-bind such women often experience. The term “double-bind” dates to thethe 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement, which coincided with the maturation phase of otheridentity-focused social movements in progress at the time such as the American IndianMovement, the Chicano Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement. In all of these ethnicmovements, women’s role was sometimes subordinated to that of men. Indeed, an infamousexample of this perspective is found in the remarks of Stokely Carmichael, who in the 1960s said“The only position for women in the civil rights movement is prone.” Since that time, therelative position and role of women of color in a range of social outcomes, such as engineeringbachelor’s degrees, has been unclear because of the complex ways in which ethnic and genderidentities interact.In the engineering context, identities and the ways that advocates of engineering educationaddress them can have serious ramifications for the participation of women of color inengineering. The organizational context in engineering has often witnessed a paralleldevelopment of a Women in Engineering (WIE) office alongside a Minority EngineeringPrograms (MEP) office. Some institutions have both such offices, some have only one, and stillothers have combined these functions under a broad “diversity” heading. There are on-goingdebates about the efficacy of combining versus maintaining separate offices. To some extentthese debates are grounded in the different realities that may be experienced by women andminorities, while to another they are informed by serious questions about the distribution ofscarce resources at the university.The key research questions we address:  What are the key features of MEP and WIE offices?  At institutions with relatively high numbers of women of color, how are these student services structured? Does institutional type impact these organizations and outcomes related to women of color in engineering? (E.g., private/public, research-intensive or bachelor’s granting, engineering specialty and minority, etc.)  What role can scholarship programs that target minority engineering students play in leveling the field for women of color in engineering? How can such programs keep in mind the double-bind for women of color within colleges of engineering?Our paper focuses on a specific set of 50 institutions that are in a partnership with a large non-profit engineering research and scholarship. Data on programmatic availability and generalstructure, combined with existing data on degree trends by ethnicity and sex will be analyzed toanswer these research questions. Nationally, women of color represented 17 percent of allbachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities in engineering in 2008 but accountedfor 31 percent of all students at the 50 Partner institutions. Hence, studying the institutionalcontext of this particular set of 50 institutions holds forth much promise for understanding howwe might increase women’s participation in engineering.

Frehill, L. M. (2011, June), Moving Beyond the Double-Bind: WIE and MEP Programs and Serving the Needs of Women of Color in Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18963

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