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Pilot Study: An Exploration of the Experiences that Influence Women’s Interest, Pursuit, and Continued Involvement in STEM Careers

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Undergraduate Student Issues: Culture

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.966.1 - 23.966.13



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Paper Authors


Rosalyn S. Hobson Virginia Commonwealth University

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Dr. Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves has been at Virginia Commonwealth University since 1996. Dr. Hobson holds a joint appointment in the Schools of Engineering and Education where she is Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning. She received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia. Her research interests are K-16 STEM education, biomedical signal and image processing with machine learning and international development STEM activities. She served as the Engineering Associate Dean for Graduate Studies for five years and in 2003 she was awarded the American Association for the Advancement of Science Diplomacy Fellowship.

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Cindy Jong University of Kentucky

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Cindy Jong is an assistant professor of mathematics education at the University of Kentucky's STEM Education Department. Her research aims to understand preservice teachers' conceptions of teaching and learning mathematics along with examining issues of social justice as they connects to STEM education.

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Donna Joy Dockery

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Mary Hermann Virginia Commonwealth University


Teresa Jones Carter Virginia Commonwealth University

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TERESA (Terry) J. CARTER is Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning and Associate Dean for Professional Instruction and Faculty Development in the School of Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. She holds an M.A. in Education and Human Development and an Ed.D. in Human and Organizational Learning from The George Washington University. Since entering academia in 2005 from the corporate sector, she directed the Adult Learning graduate program in the School of Education at VCU for seven years before assuming her current faculty development position in the School of Medicine in July 2012. Her research interests include transformative learning among professionals in the workplace, the scholarship of teaching and learning with technology, and organization development. She has been published in Performance Improvement Quarterly, The Journal of Business Communication, Advances in Developing Human Resources, and the International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Recently, she has presented at the Educause Learning Initiative, the International Conference on Transformative Learning, the Lilly Conference on Teaching and Learning and the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy.

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Pilot Study: An Exploration of the Experiences that Influence Women’s Interest, Pursuit, and Continued Involvement in STEM CareersWhile longitudinal studies that examine the effects of personal and environmental factors onwomen’s career motivation have been reported in the literature (Farmer, 1997; Xie & Shauman,2005), none have provided depth or breadth of biographical interviewing over the time span ofthe last two decades. Many intersecting variables have been identified by empirical research toaccount for women’s continued underrepresentation in STEM careers, yet persistence, especiallyin computer science and engineering, remains an issue. Recent studies (Hill et al. 2010; NAS,2007) cite several contributing factors to the underrepresentation of women in the field and givespecial attention to women in STEM academic positions, with less focus on women in STEMcareers broadly.In this pilot study the experiences that encourage or discourage women’s interest and persistencein STEM careers through a retrospective analysis of their K-16 and early career experiences areexplored. The researchers use a grounded theory approach (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Glaser &Strauss, 1967) to interview women about their experiences and use these data to formulatetheoretical propositions that extend or challenge what is presently known about factorsinfluencing underrepresentation of women in STEM careers. The influences of family, culture,K-16 educational experiences, and transition to the workforce of women ages 25-45 who havegraduated from college in a STEM major, with particular emphasis in studying the experiencesof women in engineering and computer science, are examined.Five women of diverse ages, race, ethnicity, and background in the fields of engineering,computer science, and STEM education were interviewed. While this pilot sample is very smalland far from representative, it has presented some interesting early results. Parental support hasbeen identified in many studies as being a factor that encourages women’s participation in STEM(Matkins, 1996). Participants indicated that parents provided support for college attendance withmessages that encouraged nontraditional gender roles; grandparents were also identified as rolemodels. Contrary to the supposition that the media, with unrealistic images of women, fosterstraditional gender roles (Pipher, 1994), our pilot participants did not perceive the media as astrong influence of career or educational choices in their lives.Pilot participants identified the importance of STEM-related high school summer camps, co-opexperiences, and internships in shaping their college major decisions. They described a lack ofpositive influence from school counselors in supporting them in STEM-related college decisions.Given the dearth of literature in school counseling and academic advising publications, this earlyfinding is not surprising, but nonetheless disturbing. School counseling literature is justbeginning to address the counselor role in encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers (Akos etal., 2007; Feller, 2009; Sciarra, 2010; West-Olatunji et al., 2010), and college academic advisorshave only recently been exposed to articles on supporting young women pursuing STEM careers.The preliminary results show gaps in the literature and the need to capture the influence ofinformal educational experiences. ReferencesAkos, P., Shoffner, M., & Ellis, M. (2007). Mathematics placement and the transition to middle school. Professional School Counseling, 10, 238-244.Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons, and evaluative criteria. Qualitative Sociology, 13(1), 3-21.Farmer, H. S. (1997). Diversity and Women’s Career Development: From Adolescence to Adulthood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Feller, R. (Sept/Oct. 2009). The Stem Career Launch Pad. ASCA School Counselor. 36-41.Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter .Hill, C, Corbettt, C. & St.Rose A. (2010) Why so few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Washington, D.C. American Association for University Women.Matkins, J. J. (1996). Characteristics of Women Scientists: Science in Different Voices. Unpublished Dissertation.National Academy of Sciences (2007) Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering.Pipher, M. (1994). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the selves of adolescent girls. New York: Ballentine Books.Sciarra, D. T. (2010). Predictive factors in intensive math course-taking in high school. Professional School Counseling, 13, 196-207.West-Olatunji, C., Shure, L., Pringle, R., Adams, T., Lewis, D., & Cholewa, B. (2010). Exploring how school counselors position low-income African American girls as mathematics and science learners. Professional School Counseling, 13, 184-195.Xie, Y., & Shauman, K. A. (2005). Women in science: Career processes and outcomes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hobson, R. S., & Jong, C., & Dockery, D. J., & Hermann, M., & Carter, T. J. (2013, June), Pilot Study: An Exploration of the Experiences that Influence Women’s Interest, Pursuit, and Continued Involvement in STEM Careers Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22351

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