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Qualitative Study of Women’s Personal Experiences of Retention and Attrition in Undergraduate Engineering Programs

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division (WIED) Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering Division (WIED)

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Paper Authors


Elle Ann Kreiner University of Maryland Baltimore County

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Mx. Elle Kreiner (they/them) is currently an interdisciplinary research assistant to Dr. Jamie Gurganus (she/her) in the Engineering and Computing Education Program (ECEP) at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Elle graduated from UMBC with a double major in Cultural Anthropology and Sociology, and are currently pursuing a M.A., in Applied Sociology. Elle specializes in ethnographic research and analysis, as well as quantitative data aggregation.

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Jamie R Gurganus University of Maryland Baltimore County

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Dr. Jamie Gurganus is a faculty member in the Engineering and Computing Education Program and Affiliate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at UMBC. She is the Associate Director STEMed Research in the College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT). She also serves as the Director for the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) in the graduate school. Her research is focused on solving problems relating to educating and developing engineers, teachers, and the community at all levels (P12, undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate). A few of these key areas include engineering identity and mindsets, global competencies, failure culture, first year experiences in engineering, capstone design thinking, integrating service and authentic learning into the engineering classroom, implementing new instructional methodologies, and design optimization using traditional and non-traditional manufacturing. She seeks to identify best practices and develop assessments methods that assist in optimizing computing and engineering learning. Dr. Gurganus was one the inaugural award winners of the Diane M. Lee teaching award in 2021 and received an Exemplary Mentor Award from the Center for Women in Technology in 2022. She also received the Northern Maryland Technology Council Leader Award in STEM education in 2019. She has written curricula and published a number of works in engineering education in both higher education, P12 and international spaces. She is a co-founder and the Director of Innovation Programs and Operations for the non-profit research group, Advancing Engineering Excellence in P-12 Engineering Education and has successfully launched PROMISE Engineering Institute Global, for international future faculty development. Dr. Gurganus teaches several first and second year Engineering classes along with the Mechanical and Multidisciplinary Engineering Senior Capstone design courses and Global Engineering at UMBC. As an active member of American Society of Engineering Education, She is currently serving as the program chair for the pre-college division and serving on two task forces with the president to create a framework for ‘Weaving in Students vs. Weeding them out’ and a report to NSF for changing students' mindsets.

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Women’s persistent underrepresentation in engineering fields is a national priority. In the past two decades, the proportion of women earning degrees in engineering has increased from 18% to 21%. This work-in-progress paper presents the preliminary longitudinal mixed-methods analysis and results from a study designed to advance the understanding of women’s experiences in undergraduate engineering at a mid-size university. This research, in its third year, focuses on qualitative analysis examining personal experiences as they coalesce with gender, sex, race, and other identifying factors. These compiled experiences provide insight into how the identifying factors influence educational outcomes as aligned with our sociocultural understanding of undergraduate engineering education. Qualitative methodology in the form of ethnographic interviews and focus groups were used to examine a racially diverse sample of ten cohorts of undergraduate women in engineering programs, in addition to currently enrolled students. The aim of this portion of the project is to elucidate the cultural ecosystem of undergraduate engineering education and its relation to women’s achievement motivation and to complicate the discourse on identity in engineering education with an examination of structural modes of power, privilege, and inequality within the discipline. This research seeks to answer: What personal experiences in engineering cohorts are related to retention and graduation among undergraduate women, and what experiences may be ubiquitous in these cohorts? Findings from this research pertain to various majors (mechanical, chemical, or computer engineering), touching on first-hand experiences of prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, mentorship, growth, and opportunity. The final phase of the project completes comparative analysis of data collected through mixed methods.

Kreiner, E. A., & Gurganus, J. R. (2023, June), Qualitative Study of Women’s Personal Experiences of Retention and Attrition in Undergraduate Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--44003

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