June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
22.1570.1 - 22.1570.16
Undergraduate Women in Chemical Engineering: Exploring Why They Come and Stay Catherine E. Brawner and Susan M. LordObjectiveThis paper presents research illuminating the reasons women choose and remain as chemicalengineering (ChemE) undergraduate majors.Relevance to the Chemical Engineering CommunityChemical engineering attracts a larger proportion of women than most other engineering majors.The purpose of this research is to explore the qualities of the major that make it particularlyattractive to women and women’s experiences in the major. Chemical Engineering departmentsthat wish to continue to attract relatively large numbers of women can learn from the positiveexperiences and attitudes of these women. Likewise, their negative perceptions may be mitigatedby policies and programs designed to do so. This study is part of a larger National ScienceFoundation-sponsored study of pockets of success for women in engineering.MethodsFocus groups were held with women majoring in chemical engineering at two universities in thesoutheastern United States. There were 10 participants ranging in age from 20 to 27 who werejuniors and seniors. Participants were asked why they chose their institution, why they chosechemical engineering, and what factors encourage them to stay in the major. They were alsoasked to comment on why they believe women choose and succeed in chemical engineering.ResultsSeveral themes emerged from the focus groups that will be detailed in the final paper. Theseinclude the students’ perceptions of Chem E as a discipline: • A challenging curriculum that the women students take pride in being able to successfully complete • High starting salaries with excellent job prospects for students who wish to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation • A wide range of curricular choices that allow students to be well prepared for a range of graduate study options including medical school • Availability of high quality internships Many felt that chemical engineering was a more “feminine” profession where students are not required to “get their hands dirty” compared with more male-dominated engineering majors where even the buildings “smell like men.In addition, other themes related to the experiences of the women ChemE majors: • Students enjoy chemistry but not physics, particularly at the level required for many other engineering majors. • These women are determined: some stay not so much because they enjoy the major but because they have “made it this far” and can not imagine delaying graduation by changing majors. • These women are resilient: some describe the environment for women as “competitive,” “cutthroat,” and “unfriendly” and yet they stay.
Brawner, C. E., & Lord, S. M., & Ohland, M. W. (2011, June), Undergraduate Women in Chemical Engineering: Exploring Why They Come Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. https://peer.asee.org/18362
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