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Student Retention Strategies Gender Clustering

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.398.1 - 1.398.8

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Paper Authors

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Michael H. Gregg

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Dr. Deidre Hirschfeld

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Dr. Bevlee Watford

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3253

Student Retention Strategies Gender Clustering

Michael H. Gregg, Dr. Deidre Hirschfeld, Dr. Bevlee Watford Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University currently requires its incoming freshman and transfer students to take two introductory engineering courses - - EF1005 and EF1006. In an effort to improve the retention rates of women in its engineering programs, the Office of Minority Engineering Programs has instituted voluntary gender clustering in the first of these classes -- EF1005. Women comprise about 17% of our entering engineering students and they are still in the minority in their classes. Therefore, women students are preferentially registered in 8 of the 35 sections of EF1005, an introductory course in engineering problem solving. This clustering is not intended to produce women- only sections of EF1005, but to produce multiple sections of EF1005 each of which has women in greater numbers. The clustering is intended as a means for these freshman students to initiate friendships and establish study groups with their gender peers. The clustering program is supported by academic workshops, conducted by a cadre of trained workshop leaders. Seven of the eight clustered sections of EF1005 have as their professors faculty members who have attended training sessions on minority issues. This paper deals with Virginia Tech’s experiences with this first year of gender clustering, including enrollment issues, faculty attitudes, acceptance by students, and preliminary results.


Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will award bachelor degrees to roughly 4300 students this academic year. Of these degrees, about 42% or 1800 will be awarded to women. Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering will award 950 bachelor degrees along with 450 Masters and over 100 Doctorates. Of these Bachelor of Science Degrees in various engineering disciplines, only 160, or roughly 16% will be awarded to women.1 Nationwide, more than 10,000 women will earn engineering degrees this year, whereas over 50,000 men will attain this academic level.2 Despite the fact that women are over 50% of the population of the United States, engineering school enrollments do not reflect this gender dominance, and the engineering profession remains a predominantly white male bastion. Gender equity progress has been made in the 100+ years since Kate Gleason entered Cornell University, and Elmina Wilson earned her civil engineering degree from Iowa State University.3 Societal changes and associated legal and infrastructure changes have opened more and better technical opportunities to women. The percentage of women engineers enrolled as first year students doubled from 9 percent in 1975 to 18 percent in 1992.4 In that same time frame, the total number of undergraduate engineering women increased from 16 thousand to over 57 thousand. Undergraduate enrollment at Virginia Tech, currently at over 19 thousand per year, has seen a markedly consistent male to female ratio for the past six years. It is anticipated that Tech’s 1996

1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings

Gregg, M. H., & Hirschfeld, D. D., & Watford, D. B. (1996, June), Student Retention Strategies Gender Clustering Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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