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The Engineering "Pipeline" Metaphor and the Careers of Female Deans of Engineering

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Myths About Gender and Race

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering, Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, and Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1456.1 - 22.1456.8



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Paper Authors


Peggy Layne Virginia Tech

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Peggy Layne, P.E., joined Virginia Tech in 2003 as director of the AdvanceVT program, a National Science Foundation sponsored program to increase the number and success of women faculty in science and engineering. Prior to accepting her current position, Ms. Layne worked as a diversity consultant for the American Association of Engineering Societies and as director of the program on diversity in the engineering workforce at the National Academy of Engineering. She also spent a year as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow in the office of Senator Bob Graham, where she was responsible for water, wastewater, and solid and hazardous waste policy issues.

Ms. Layne has degrees in environmental and water resources engineering from Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. She spent 17 years as a consulting engineer with several firms, and was formerly a principal at Harding Lawson Associates in Tallahassee, FL, where she managed the office and directed hazardous waste site investigation and cleanup projects. Ms. Layne is an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a registered professional engineer. She served as president of the Society of Women Engineers in 1996-97 and is FY11 Chair of SWE’s Government Relations and Public Policy Committee.

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Careers of female deans of engineering Who does engineering is important, since engineers are key contributors to the design of technologies that shape our world. While women have made significant gains in their proportion of degrees earned and their representation in the professoriate in the past 30 years, they remain significantly underrepresented in engineering (Burrelli 2008).  The advancement of women into leadership roles in engineering education has the potential to make engineering as a career more attractive to young women and to encourage women currently pursuing academic careers in engineering to aspire to leadership positions themselves.  Understanding the experiences of women who have reached a high level of accomplishment in academic engineering careers will inform institutional change strategies aimed at increasing women in STEM.   In 2009, women earned just 17.8% of the 74,387 bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering in the United States, 23% of master’s degrees, and 21.3% of doctoral degrees.  Women currently comprise 12.7% of engineering faculty, and 7.7% of full professors. (ASEE 2010)  Of the almost 400 institutions in the United States with engineering programs accredited by ABET, 38 had women in the role of dean of engineering or director of the engineering program in the spring of 2010.  Thirty‐one additional women have served as dean at some point in the past 20 years. (ASEE, personal communication)  Deans are key academic leaders, responsible for faculty recruitment, hiring, and development, as well as setting priorities and allocating resources for the college.  They thus play an important role in defining the work environment and establishing the climate for faculty as well as students.  A deanship is also a common stepping‐stone to higher academic leadership roles. (Wolverton et al. 2001; Montez et al. 2002; Del Favero 2005)  It is thus important to understand the factors that facilitate and inhibit female faculty members’ aspirations for and ability to succeed in the decanal role. The pipeline metaphor often used to describe the science and engineering workforce reinforces the myth of linearity in education and career progression.  In reality, individuals follow many routes to and through education and career.  For women, family formation can present challenges to advancement in academic careers, leading to “pipeline leaks”, particularly for mothers (e. g., Mason et al. 2006; Ward and Wolf‐Wendel 2004; Armenti 2004).  Women engineering academics employ a variety of strategies to accommodate and resist the combined demands of motherhood and a workplace designed for men.  Through semi‐structured interviews with current and former female engineering deans, this qualitative study explores factors that influence academic career progression, both contributing to and detracting from female faculty members’ ability to successfully combine career and family.  

Layne, P. (2011, June), The Engineering "Pipeline" Metaphor and the Careers of Female Deans of Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18804

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