Asee peer logo

Tension of Legacy: Self-Authorship of Female Engineering Students and Their Professional Choice

Download Paper |


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: Persistence

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1164.1 - 23.1164.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jennifer A. Skaggs American University in Cairo

visit author page

Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education and co-Director of the STEAM Center at The American University in Cairo, Egypt. Jennifer earned a Ph.D. in higher education with a concentration in gender studies from the University of Kentucky and received her MS in College Student Development from Miami University, OH. Her research focuses on: Student identity and development; Cultural issues in undergraduate STEM/STEAM education; International social foundations including epistemological beliefs related to critical pedagogy; Comparative international STEM/STEAM education, accessibility and policy; accreditation and assessment.

visit author page

Download Paper |


TENSION OF LEGACY: SELF-AUTHORSHIP OF FEMALE ENGINEERING STUDENTS AND THEIR PROFESSIONAL CHOICEBeing a successful female in engineering involves more than just mastering curriculum andtechnical competencies. It also involves learning how to negotiate one’s personal identity asone’s “professional engineering identity” is also being developed. For this to happen, it isessential to recognize technology and gender as socially constructed. Even as technology andengineering are male-dominated, engineering education is also a predominately masculineculture, resulting in few females pursuing engineering even though they have the ability anddesire to do so. By asking distinctive questions regarding how female undergraduate engineeringstudents perceive and negotiate their gender identities in the male gendered environment ofengineering education, this study allows for increased understanding of their identitydevelopment in relation to their future career choices. Where are these female students takingtheir engineering skills and credentials? While females work hard to persist and succeed in theirengineering programs, professional engineering positions are not necessarily an importantcomponent of future plans. For many females, their identity formation during their collegecareer, as they balance being a woman with being an engineer, is precarious resulting in anengineering exodus of females within the first five years of graduation.This current research drawn from a larger four year ethnographic case study of an undergraduateengineering program at a land grant Research I institution located in a region recognized for itsshortage of engineering, looks at the individual through lenses of context and institution, as wellas larger cultural paradigms. This research is significant in its use of feminist theory andqualitative methods to study engineering education permitting students to articulate theirexperiences in their own words and voices thus allowing for nuanced of meaning andunderstanding to emerge. Baxter Magolda’s (1999) theory of self-authorship provides theconceptual framework with inductive analysis will be used as the primary tool for data analysisBy utilizing Baxter-Magolda’s theory of self-authorship (1999) I will expound on the theme offemale engineering students career goals and aspirations and their developmental growth(cognitively, intrapersonally, interpersonally). The females in this study are developingepistemologically, alongside endeavoring to acquire the power to generate and author their owntruths as they listen to external voices of authority (including female engineering faculty) whendetermining for themselves what future paths to pursue. Becoming an engineer involves morethan just pursuing a career, for females it also includes added expectations of continuing thelegacy started by female engineering pioneers years ago.Effective engineering education is strategic in supporting students to achieve authentic identitydevelopment alongside increasing their technical skills. When all students believe theirpersonality and skills are good matches for their environment, their self- efficacy andcommitment to their academic and professional environment increases. Recognizing genderedpractices within engineering education and the larger engineering culture will assist in“stemming the tide” by challenging the masculine standard of engineering to change.

Skaggs, J. A. (2013, June), Tension of Legacy: Self-Authorship of Female Engineering Students and Their Professional Choice Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22549

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015