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Student Perceptions and Interest in Engineering: Effects of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Grade Level

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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

Issues of Outreach and Interest in Engineering

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1102.1 - 23.1102.27



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Paper Authors


Susannah Sandrin Arizona State University

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Dr. Susannah Sandrin is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Arizona State University. Her research interests are in the areas of STEM education, specifically looking at the influences of social and economic factors on pre-college student engagement with STEM fields. She has directed numerous research, outreach and dissemination grant projects examining gender and student participation in STEM programs (including NASA and National Science Foundation, among others). As an instructor of a large enrollment environmental science course, Dr. Sandrin is also interested in how a better understanding of environmental issues influences student behaviors in terms of their water and energy use.

Her educational background includes a B.S. in Biochemical Engineering from Rutgers University, a M.S. in Hydrology from the University of Arizona, and a Ph.D. in Soil, Water and Environmental Science from the University of Arizona. During her graduate work, she studied contaminant fate and transport of organic contaminants in groundwater systems.

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Connie M Borror Arizona State University West

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Connie M. Borror is a Professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. She received her PhD in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University in 1998.

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Student Perceptions and Interest in Engineering: Effects of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Grade Level It is widely known that fewer women enroll in engineering degree programs and work inengineering fields than men. In order to address this issue, a two-pronged approach is needed tosimultaneously attract and retain more young women to, and in, these disciplines. In this study,student perception of STEM disciplines was assessed to determine where gaps in perception arethe greatest by gender. The confounding effects of student race/ethnicity and grade level ondifferences in student perception by gender were also examined. More than 6,000 middle and high school students (grades 5-12) and almost 2,000 first-year college students were surveyed to determine student interest and perceptions about theirabilities in 26 different STEM sub-disciplines (including 7 engineering sub-disciplines). Malemiddle and high school students reported a slightly higher level of confidence about their abilityto succeed in a STEM major, with a widening gap in the first-year college student population.Male students in both populations were at least twice as likely to respond that they were “veryinterested” in engineering majors, excluding Environmental Engineering. EnvironmentalEngineering still had a larger reported male interest, but it was not as exaggerated. Thedifference between male and female student responses was present at all grade levels (5th gradethrough first-year college), although some fields did exhibit a narrowing of the gap during theupper middle school years (such as Environmental Engineering, Computer Engineering and CivilEngineering). The computing fields, physics and space science were the only other STEM fieldsthat exhibited gender gaps that approached those observed for the engineering fields. Femalestudents, in both populations, were also much more likely than male students to respond “I don’tknow what it is” to questions asking about their interest in different engineering sub-disciplines. These gender gaps were not constant, however, when race/ethnicity was factored in.Larger gender differences (with male students indicating more interest) were noted for Caucasianand Native American students as compared to Hispanic, African American and Southeast Asianstudents. Indeed, female African American students expressed a higher interest in ChemicalEngineering than male African American students. Therefore, targeted strategies as a function ofstudent gender and race/ethnicity may need to be used to attract new students. Additionally,interventions to attract young women and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups to engineeringneed to start early and continue throughout the K-12 years, in order to be truly effective. Furtherimplications of this study, as well as in-depth analysis of the results for each engineering sub-discipline, will also be addressed in the paper.

Sandrin, S., & Borror, C. M. (2013, June), Student Perceptions and Interest in Engineering: Effects of Gender, Race/Ethnicity, and Grade Level Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22487

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