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The Engineering Learning Environment: A Proposed Model

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Trends in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1225.1 - 13.1225.12



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Paper Authors

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Nadia Kellam University of Georgia


Ashley Babcock University of Georgia

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Ashley Babcock is a pre-med student at the University of Georgia majoring in Biological Engineering and Romance Languages. Her research interests are in gender and diversity issues within engineering education with an emphasis on using the ecological concept of niche construction as a useful analog for diversity in engineering education. As the student president of the local American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers she has organized community outreach and professional development opportunities for engineering students.

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David Gattie University of Georgia-Athens

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

The Engineering Learning Environment: A Proposed Model


While 30% of all students entering college major in science and engineering, less than half graduate in these fields. These students are typically the most qualified entrants into college and are disproportionately under-represented minorities. Previous studies have indicated that the engineering environment strongly influences the lack of diversity within engineering education. The engineering learning environment has a focus on individual achievement, competition, task orientation, and limited involvement with peers and professors, which leads to a narrow spectrum of students surviving in that environment.1,2 Furthermore the social fields of students within engineering do not overlap, as antecedents or stream of life events are deemed irrelevant. This simplistic learning environment may provide a deeper understanding of why women account for only 21% of engineering students.3

A contextual model of the learning environment was developed and will be presented. This model promises to provide a lens to view the issue of diversity in engineering educational systems and eventually lead to transformational changes that address this marginization of subsets of people. This lens will provide a way to view diversity and provide tools to infuse systemic change in the higher educational system. Instead of simply blaming the student or the perceptions of the student, this approach looks at the engineering environment as the root of the problem so that we do not provide a shallow, local solution to a much deeper, pervasive issue.

"If a plant fails to flourish, to grow or even to survive in our human-constructed garden, we do not blame the plant.... We accept that it is we who have created an inappropriate ecological environment and that we must adjust that environment if plants, other than indigenous hardy ones, are to survive and flourish."4


Rather than focus on underrepresented minorities as the issue, this study is developing a deeper understanding of the engineering learning environment to gain insight as to why there is such an underrepresentation of women and minorities within engineering. Previous engineering education studies have indicated that the culture or environment within engineering strongly influences attraction and retention within engineering programs.1,2,4,5,6 Although some people learn in spite of the current learning environment, it cannot be assumed that the learning environment is acceptable.7 "Male-normed classrooms, often dubbed "chilly" climates for women, have generally been described in the literature as competitive, weed-out systems that are hierarchically structured with impersonal professors."1 This description of the engineering classroom is representative of the engineering learning environment that many engineering students experience and that often lead to females having less self confidence or self-efficacy.8,9 Additionally, within the learning environment research, the quality of the learning environment influences the learning that takes place in that environment.10 The authors propose to take the first steps in developing a systemic understanding of the engineering learning environment and to study the effects that altering the engineering learning environment has on the retention of

Kellam, N., & Babcock, A., & Gattie, D. (2008, June), The Engineering Learning Environment: A Proposed Model Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3779

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