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Understanding the Impacts of COVID-19 on Feelings of Stress and Anxiety in Women Engineering Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Maija A. Benitz Roger Williams University

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Dr. Maija Benitz is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Roger Williams University, where she has taught since 2017. Prior to joining RWU, Benitz taught at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, after completing her doctoral work jointly in the Multiphase Flow Simulation Lab and the Wind Energy Center at UMass Amherst. She teaches in the first-year curriculum, as well as thermodynamics, sustainable energy, fluid mechanics, and ocean engineering. Benitz is a Hassenfeld Community Engagement Fellow and a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow at RWU. Her research focuses on offshore wind energy, oyster growth, community engagement, and engineering education.

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Lillian Clark Jeznach Roger Williams University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Lillian Jeznach is an Assistant Professor of Engineering at Roger Williams University. She teaches the first year curriculum as well as courses related to environmental and water resources engineering. She received a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and received her Master of Science and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Jeznach’s research focuses on the analysis of water quantity and quality in both natural and built hydrologic systems. She is also a Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Fellow at RWU and interested in evaluating evidence-based teaching and mentoring practices in STEM education, particularly those which may increase retention of underrepresented students in the engineering discipline.

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Selby M. Conrad Roger Williams University

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Selby Conrad, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Roger Williams University, Adjunct Assistant Professor (Clinical) at Brown University Medical School and a licensed psychologist on staff at Rhode Island and Bradley Hospitals. Dr. Conrad's program of research has largely been focused on gender differences in risk and recidivism within the juvenile justice system. However, she also conducts research in gender differences in educational experience and risk in college students and substance use in a variety of populations. Her clinical work is focused on youth with co-occurring disorders. She teaches undergraduate and graduate students in applied areas such as counseling skills, art therapy and research methods.

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For over two decades, the percentage of women earning bachelor degrees in engineering has remained stagnant at 20%, despite continued growth in the overall number of undergraduate engineering degrees awarded in the US. Understanding how to increase both recruitment and retention is critical to improving the representation of women in engineering. Beyond the interest in drawing more women to engineering majors, the literature cites many reasons for why women choose to leave engineering programs. For example, feelings of worry, discouragement, and anxiety are shown to inhibit learning and academic progress, in ways that disproportionality affect women, and can lead to exiting an engineering program. In the fall of 2018, we piloted a study to better understand differences between women, men, and non-binary engineering students at our liberal arts university in the northeastern US. The survey is administered twice each academic year to explore self-efficacy, belongingness, preparedness, and engagement, both longitudinally and cross-sectionally. In March 2020, our university quickly pivoted to remote learning in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and in the fall of 2020 our campus re-opened for hybrid learning. The abrupt changes in higher education, brought on by the current public health crisis, affect students’ learning and mental health, in ways that will likely be long lasting. To measure the impacts of the pandemic on engineering students, twenty Likert-type screener questions were added to the survey, which was re-administered in June 2020 and again in September 2020. This paper shares findings from the two most recent survey points, with emphasis on the results from the COVID screener questions. Women reported significantly higher levels of stress on ten out of the twenty COVID screener questions, as compared to the men, spanning topics related to home life, physical health, mental health and academics. Fewer significant changes were observed over time in men than women. This study aims to provide insights on how to better recruit, retain and support women in undergraduate engineering programs through measuring differences in feelings of stress and anxiety between genders and across time.

Benitz, M. A., & Jeznach, L. C., & Conrad, S. M. (2021, July), Understanding the Impacts of COVID-19 on Feelings of Stress and Anxiety in Women Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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