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Negotiating Gender in an Engineering Environment

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session - Strategies Beyond the Classroom to Tackle Gender Issues

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Katherine G Nelson Arizona State University

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Katie just recently finished her PhD at ASU and is currently working as adjunct faculty at ASU. Her research interests include complexity learning, cognition, and motivation.

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Susan Shapcott University of Bath

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Susan Shapcott holds a Master’s degree in educational psychology from Arizona State University, and is pursuing her doctorate. One of her research interests is the motivation and performance of adults in underrepresented environments.

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Jenefer Husman Arizona State University

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Jenefer Husman received a doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, in 1998. She served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama from 1998 to 2002, when she moved to Arizona State University. In 2008 she was promoted by ASU to Associate Professor. Dr. Husman serves as the Director of Education for the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technology Center - an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center. Dr. Husman is an assistant editor of the Journal of Engineering Education, has been a guest editor of Educational Psychology Review, served on editorial board for top educational research journals, and currently sits on the editorial board of Learning and Instruction. In 2006 she was awarded the U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER grant award and received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the President of the United States. She has conducted and advised on educational research projects and grants in both the public and private sectors, and served as an external reviewer for doctoral dissertations outside the U.S. She publishes regularly in peer-reviewed journals and books. Dr. Husman was a founding member and first President of the Southwest Consortium for Innovative Psychology in Education and has held both elected and appointed offices in the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Motivation Special Interest Group of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction.

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Despite a recent emphasis on increasing female retention in engineering, data trends indicate that such efforts have had limited success. This study considered female retention in engineering by interviewing female students about why they entered and stayed in engineering.

We interviewed six female engineering students about their experience in engineering. All students were attending a summer research program at an American southwestern university. Students ranged in age (19-35 years old) and academic level (forthcoming sophomore-senior). The interviews were semi-structured and were conducted by the first author - an engineering education researcher. Using a post-paradigm constructivist method, established themes and theoretical constructs were extracted from the interview transcripts that related to students’ perceptions of engineering. The first author interpreted the interviews along with the second author (educational psychologist). By framing students’ perspectives in established theories we validated the observed themes. Even though our sample was limited, commonalities emerged in the interviews for women’s engineering experiences.

Five themes emerged from the data: discovery of engineering, interest and persistence in engineering, discrimination within engineering, gender identity, and family-career balance. All themes aligned with theoretical constructs in the literature relating to engineering, persistence, or experiences of underrepresented populations. The discovery of engineering theme was indicative of early exposure and tinkering with engineering. Participants noted that their interest and persistence in engineering was due to intrinsic interest in engineering topics. They described limited discrimination by their superiors (professors), but felt more discriminated against by their male peers. Our participants acknowledged the white-guy engineer stereotype and consequently the perceived incongruence between their gender and engineering culture. Lastly, the participants were cognizant of the family-career balance issue.

The themes that emerged in this study represent our participants’ shared experiences that influenced their choice to pursue engineering. They also reflect the challenges women must surmount to persist.

Nelson, K. G., & Shapcott, S., & Husman, J. (2016, June), Negotiating Gender in an Engineering Environment Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25780

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