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The Impact of Contextualized, Hands-on, Collaborative Learning on Women’s Persistence in Professional Engineering: Preliminary Findings from a Mixed Methods Study

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Retention of Women Students II

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1311.1 - 25.1311.14



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Paper Authors


Heidi M. Steinhauer Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach

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Heidi M. Steinhauer is an Associate Professor of engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Steinhauer holds a Ph.D. in engineering education from Virginia Tech. She has taught Engineering Graphics, Introduction to Engineering Design, Automation and Rapid Prototyping, and has developed several advanced applications of 3D modeling courses. She is the Co-advisor of the only all-women’s Baja SAE Team in the world. Her current research interests center around the development and assessment of students’ spatial visualization skills, effective integration of 3D modeling into engineering design, and women’s retention in engineering.

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Six Years of XXX University’s Women’s Collegiate Design Team: Mapping the Emergent Trends ASEE Abstract – San Antonio 2012AbstractReported findings for the last 15 years have demonstrated that the enrollment figures for womenin engineering have continued to decrease in spite of significant increases in federal funding andsupport for women to pursue engineering. Research has indicated that contextualized, hands-onlearning experiences have a greater and lasting impact on students’ perceptions of engineering.A second powerful motivator is the presence of successful role models in the field, women mustbe able to identify with and relate to these role models. Therefore, the development andimplementation of a women’s collegiate design competition team is one way to introduce andsustain an interest in engineering as a career to young women.We proposed in 2005, that participation in a year-long extra-curricular, hands-on designexperience would impart a lasting and positive change in the girls’ attitudes and understandingsabout engineering. To provide critical role models to the team members, the advisors for theteam would be female engineering faculty.Team members were solicited through email requests to participate in this research. To establishan engineering profile of the past team members, each completed a 5-point Likert surveyevaluating their own ability, interest, and persistence in engineering both academically andprofessionally. The Likert survey responses were used to generate the semi-structured interviewprotocol to more fully investigate the impact of their participation on their perception ofengineering.Two areas of particular interest are: 1) the results of the team members who have participated inBaja throughout their undergraduate education and 2) the experiences and attitudes of the teamcaptains. These particular participants were interviewed to gain a deeper understanding. Closeexamination of their surveys and interviews may provide a key to motivating more youngwomen to pursue and complete a career in engineering.This paper will document the progress and maturation of Baja experience over the past six years.A brief description of the development and refinement of the key engineering activities will beincluded. Survey results from the each year will be presented as well as the emergent trendsfrom across the past six years. Excerpts from the participant interviews will be presented alongwith the survey data.Clearly enough is not being done to slow the loss of diversity in the field of engineering, womencontinue to leave in record numbers. We must find ways to contextualize engineering to theseyoung women early enough in their academic careers to make a lasting impact. We offer onesuch method, a dynamic, exciting design activity where girls meet and work with professionalwomen engineers – to develop, test, build and compete an off road vehicle. The girls leave thisteam with a high level of self-confidence and a much clearer and more defined understandingabout the field of engineering. Most importantly, they gain the belief that engineering issomething they are more than capable of pursuing and successfully completing.

Steinhauer, H. M. (2012, June), The Impact of Contextualized, Hands-on, Collaborative Learning on Women’s Persistence in Professional Engineering: Preliminary Findings from a Mixed Methods Study Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22068

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