Asee peer logo

Understanding the Intersection of First-Generation Degree Seeking Women, Engineering, and Public Universities

Download Paper |


2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jessica Ohanian Perez California State Polytechnic University, Pomona Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Jessica Ohanian Perez is an assistant professor in Electromechanical Engineering Technology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona with a focus on STEM pedagogy. Jessica earned her doctorate in education, teaching, learning and culture from Claremont Graduate University. Her research focuses on broadening participation of marginalized group in engineering and investigating alternate paths to the field.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The 23 campuses of the California State University system (CSU) form the largest university system in the United States, educating over 460,000 students each year. The graduation Initiative of 2015 set a goal of raising the six year graduation rate to 54% for all students. While the CSU met its overall goal of graduation, it exacerbated the gap in achievement for under-represented groups. In 2018, approximately one-third of the students enrolled in the CSU are first generation degree seeking. The gap in academic achievement for this group is 13% compared to their counterparts. This lack of achievement is compounded when considering women in engineering fields, who earned only 16.8% of engineering degrees system-wide in 2016. The purpose of this study is to examine the intersection of first generation degree seeking status, gender, the public university and the discipline of engineering. The study was comprised ten first generation degree seeking women from a larger set of twenty-two women who have or will obtain their undergraduate degree in engineering from a CSU and employed a qualitative methodology. The data collected helped to answer the question: How does the intersection of gender and first generation college status impact a woman’s experience in undergraduate engineering programs at public universities? The data was analyzed through a lens of Feminist Poststructuralism and Dual Identity to allow the following themes to emerge: Isolation and independence, Finding value in public agency, and Projective comparative norming. The first generation degree seeking women engineers experience isolation within the field and home life during their undergraduate degree, which gives them a heightened sense of independence; seek out careers in public agency to serve their communities and preserve work-life balance; and project social capital onto their peers and use that as a basis for comparison.

Perez, J. O. (2019, June), Understanding the Intersection of First-Generation Degree Seeking Women, Engineering, and Public Universities Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33482

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015