New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Women in Engineering
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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