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The Art Of Engineering: Using Fine Arts To Discuss The Lives Of Women Faculty In Engineering

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Women in Engineering: Faculty/Curriculum

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1231.1 - 9.1231.12



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Paper Authors

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Naomi Chesler

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Donna Riley

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The Art of Engineering: Using Fine Arts to Discuss the Lives of Women Faculty in Engineering Naomi C. Chesler, Donna Riley

University of Wisconsin/Smith College

Abstract According to the theory of expressionism, the most important aspect of a work of art is its vivid communication of moods, feelings, and ideas. We utilized the expressive qualities of fine art to initiate a discussion among untenured women faculty members in engineering about their career struggles and successes. In the third in a series of three workshops for untenured women faculty in engineering, participants visited the Smith College Art Museum in groups of four or five in order to choose one work of art representing an ongoing struggle, and a second representing a recent accomplishment in their lives. Through these images, the participants described both personal and professional struggles and accomplishments in their lives. Examples of struggles included self-doubt, confusion and procrastination, lapses in motivation and drive and the struggle to stay organized as well as departmental conflict, lack of recognition for one’s work, the need to publish, and challenges of communication. Examples of accomplishments included recognizing personal strength, attaining professional recognition, developing successful collaborations, and striking a balance between work and family. Choosing and sharing these images allowed the workshop participants to conceptualize and discuss career issues in a novel, representative way and allowed other participants to see their struggles and accomplishments through their eyes. Thus, visual representation of positive and negative aspects of being a part of the engineering academy may be a useful strategy for men and women in engineering to discuss their career issues and to find community support.

I. Introduction It is well known that women are under-represented in the engineering workforce nationwide [1]. In colleges and universities, fewer women than men become engineering faculty members and fewer women than men make rapid progress up the academic ladder [2]. There are many and varied explanations for these disparities including that there are too few women in the “pipeline,” overt and subtle discrimination [3], different career (and life) priorities [4] and the familial and care-taking roles expected of women as wives and mothers. Cole refers to the combination of these patterns as the “accumulating disadvantages” that act as barriers to the success of women in science [5].

Previously we have suggested that peer-mentoring through a caring community would improve the quality of life for women faculty members in engineering and could have an effect on retention and advancement in engineering academe [6]. One of the benefits of a caring community is the opportunity for open and frank discussions in a supportive atmosphere. These discussions can serve to reinforce positive behaviors and situations and offer alternative viewpoints on less productive behaviors and situations. In Wuthnow’s terms, “…through

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Chesler, N., & Riley, D. (2004, June), The Art Of Engineering: Using Fine Arts To Discuss The Lives Of Women Faculty In Engineering Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13591

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