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Pathways to Male-Dominated Engineering Programs

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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

22.1144.1 - 22.1144.10



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Paper Authors


Aura Tuulia Paloheimo Aalto University, School of Science and Engineering

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Aura Paloheimo (M.Sc.Tech.) works in the Aalto University School of Science and Engineering as a university teacher. She teaches computer science basics. Her recent research areas have covered different aspects of female minorities in technical fields.

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Kaisa Pohjonen Aalto University

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Kaisa Pohjonen works in Aalto University as a research assistant to Aura Paloheimo. Ms. Pohjonen will graduate as B.Sc. (Math) in 2011 and continue her studies in master's level.

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Pirjo Helena Putila

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Pathways to Male-dominated Engineering ProgramsFinland is a country of 5 million people in the Northern part of Europe. Our country isconsidered as gender-equal in the Western European context. However, our higher educationis strictly segregated in female and male segments, education and liberal arts being mostfemale-dominated and engineering male-dominated. The engineering profession in Finlandstruggles with an unappealing image caused by the dot com collapse that reverberated in formof massive layoffs in the technology sector in 2002. After a few years the global financialcrisis worsened the tainted reputation of the field associated with relatively limited jobsecurity. Looking forward, we are in a need of the most eligible candidates from both sexes.In the oldest and largest institution providing higher engineering education in Finland, theAalto University School of Science and Technology, the proportion of females in freshmen is25 %. The proportion of female freshmen varies from almost 50 % to mere 7 % betweendifferent degree programs. The traditionally most male-dominated degree programs arecomputer science, automation and systems technology and electronics. Valuing quality overquantity, some of the rare female students have been found to achieve relatively good studyresults compared to the majority of men. However, the study achievements vary greatlybetween the three investigated programs from fairly good to the unofficial 40 percent dropoutrates during the first academic year.In this study, we introduce the statistics covering the past four years in the Finland’s largestengineering university and most importantly contemplate on the results of a narrative inquiryconducted among the freshmen in these three study programs. The inquiry concerns the pathsby which the students have landed in our departments. In the analysis, the students wrote free-form narratives on how they ended up in the programs in question, what they consider as theirstrengths concerning the studies ahead, and what future possibilities they see in theirengineering career. The narratives were produced during the first weeks of study, capturingthe first impressions as well as the preconceptions and expectations formed prior to theinitiation of the studies. Traditional findings that identify relatives in the field and naturalsciences in general as sources of inspiration, hold with both male and female candidates.Male candidates were primarily keen on technology whereas the female peers valuedmathematics. However, the most noteworthy finding in our study is that the majority offemale freshmen did not choose their fields on the account of facts but instead on the intuitivethoughts raised by the terms in the given programs’ titles. Even though many of them startedtheir studies with joy and enthusiasm (somewhat contrary to their male peers), it should benoted that this might very well be the reason for high dropout rates in certain programs.Based on these findings, we argue that it would be prudent to take a closer look on therecruitment procedures. Moreover, the challenge in recruiting is to strike a balance: How tocreate a realistic, and at the same time appealing, picture of a profession, which would attractthese women into engineering.

Paloheimo, A. T., & Pohjonen, K., & Putila, P. H. (2011, June), Pathways to Male-Dominated Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18955

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