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Outreach Teaching, Communication, And Interpersonal Skills Encourage Women And May Facilitate Their Recruitment And Retention In The Engineering Curriculum

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Effective Methods for Recruiting Women to Engineering

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.933.1 - 15.933.18

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Paper Authors

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Sara Atwood University of California, Berkeley

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Eli Patten University of California at Berkeley

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Lisa Pruitt University of California, Berkeley

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Outreach Teaching, Communication, and Interpersonal Skills Encourage Women and may Facilitate their Recruitment and Retention in the Engineering Curriculum Abstract

Women continue to be underrepresented in engineering and technology fields. Recent gains in gender equity in bioengineering and environmental engineering suggest that women are attracted to fields they view as contributing to society. Furthermore, it has been suggested that women’s choice to enter a particular field of engineering is related to their perceived strengths in areas such as communication and interpersonal skills. We incorporated an outreach teaching activity and emphasized communication and interpersonal skills in an undergraduate engineering course and found that women undergraduates had higher confidence than men in these areas and viewed these activities as most worthwhile for their career.

Structural Aspects of Biomaterials is an upper-level undergraduate course cross-listed with mechanical and bioengineering. The enrollment is typically about 50 students with an even gender split. The course emphasized outreach, communication, and interpersonal skills with a group project supported throughout the semester by a required skills lab. The project included an outreach teaching activity for 5th grade students at a local children’s science museum, a written report, and an oral presentation. The supporting skills lab taught technical writing and editing, oral presentation skills, and interpersonal skills linked to Felder’s learning styles.1 Student teams were assigned so that all majors, learning styles, and genders were represented in each team. The activities were assessed using four surveys throughout the semester.

Women undergraduates in the course ranked learning styles, teamwork, writing and presentation activities, and the outreach teaching activity more highly than men when asked what activities were most useful for their career. Interestingly, women also self-reported higher confidence than men in 7 of 11 of our learning objectives at the beginning of the semester, and 8 of 11 at the end of the semester. Areas of higher confidence for women included working and communicating effectively on a team with various learning styles and engaging the community about science. Areas of higher confidence for men included critically evaluating written and analytical work of themselves and others, and recognizing issues and technological advances in bioengineering. Assessment of learning styles in this course revealed that women were slightly more verbal, sensing, and active, while men were slightly more visual, intuitive, and reflective.

Our results suggest that incorporating outreach projects and emphasizing communication and interpersonal skills appeals to women in undergraduate engineering programs. This course could be used as a model for first-year courses to recruit and retain women in engineering. Furthermore, the outreach activity not only allows engineering students to contribute to society, but exposes young K-8 women to engineering and role models.


Women continue to be underrepresented in engineering and technology fields. According to data compiled by the National Science Foundation on women in engineering and science in 2006,

Atwood, S., & Patten, E., & Pruitt, L. (2010, June), Outreach Teaching, Communication, And Interpersonal Skills Encourage Women And May Facilitate Their Recruitment And Retention In The Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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