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When, Why, How, Who – Recruitment Lessons from First Year Engineering Students in the Millennial Generation

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

WIED: Medley

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1375.1 - 24.1375.31



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Paper Authors


Jane L. Lehr California Polytechnic State University

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Jane Lehr is Associate Professor in Ethnic Studies and Women's & Gender Studies at California Polytechnic State University. She is also Faculty Director of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) in STEM Program at Cal Poly and Co-Director of the Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies Program. She previously served as elected co-chair of the Science & Technology Taskforce of the National Women's Studies Association, and as a Post-Doctoral Research Officer at the Center for Informal Learning and Schools (CILS) at King's College, University of London. Her graduate training is in Science & Technology Studies and Women's Studies at Virginia Tech.

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Helene Finger P.E. California Polytechnic State University

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Alana Christine Snelling

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When, Why, How, Who–Lessons from First Year Female and Male Engineering Students for Efforts to Increase Recruitment of Female EngineersToday, an increasing number of women enter, remain, and succeed within science, technology,engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields. However, women’s participation is still notproportionate. Women earned 18.4% of undergraduate degrees in engineering in 2010 accordingto the 2013 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering reportpublished by the NSF, with significant variance by subfield. In 2012, the U.S. Congress JointEconomic Committee affirmed that, “Women’s increased participation in the STEM workforceis essential to alleviating the shortage of STEM workers” in the United States. The ASEEDiversity Task Force has identified increasing the percentage of undergraduate female studentsto 25% by 2020 as a strategic goal. Explanations for the continued underrepresentation ofwomen focus on the social structure of society, the social structure of STEM education andprofessions, and/or the content and application of STEM knowledge. This paper focuses on thepre-college experiences of first year female and male engineering students at a comprehensivepolytechnic university in California and offers lessons for recruitment based on comparativeanalysis of survey data collected in 2013 on 1) when the students decided to major inengineering, 2) why the students chose engineering as a major, 3) how the students made theirdecisions about education, and 4) who the students are and how their identities compare todominant images of what it means to be an engineer. This paper builds on previous research bythe authors, based on survey data collected in 2011, which showed that 88.29% of respondentsdid not make their personal decision to major in engineering until their sophomore, junior, orsenior years in high school; that a higher proportion of 2011 respondents participated in EnglishLanguage/English Literature AP courses and co-curricular activities such as athletics and non-STEM-related volunteer/service activities than in the “usual places” where we might expect tofind future engineers (e.g., AP Physics, STEM programs/ internships); and that 38.7% of the2011 respondents chose to major in engineering in order to make a difference, help, or serve as arole model for others. However, the previous 2011 survey did not include any male students.This raised the question of whether the patterns identified above – and their significantrecruitment implications – could be explained by the sex/gender of the first year engineeringstudents surveyed and/or by their Millennial Generation status (born between 1981-2000).Preliminary analysis of the 2013 data suggests that the answer may be both/and rather thaneither/or. In the 2013 survey, 89.8% of female respondents indicated that they did not make theirpersonal decision to major in engineering until their sophomore, junior, or senior years in highschool. However, 69.8% of the male students provided the same answer. Secondly, whereas25.6% of the 2013 female respondents indicated that making a difference, helping, or serving asa role model for others was one of their top three reasons for entering engineering, this was alsothe case for 14.5% of male respondents. Implications for the recruitment of female and malestudents will be described.

Lehr, J. L., & Finger, H., & Snelling, A. C. (2014, June), When, Why, How, Who – Recruitment Lessons from First Year Engineering Students in the Millennial Generation Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23308

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