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Women as the Miner's Canary in Undergraduate Engineering Education

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

WIED Poster Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1696.1 - 22.1696.10



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Paper Authors


Beth M Holloway Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Beth Holloway is the Director of the Women in Engineering Program (WIEP) at Purdue University. As director, Beth manages programs that recruit and retain women engineers from Kindergarten through faculty ranks. Beth received both B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Engineering Education at Purdue University. She is a past president of WEPAN (Women in Engineering ProActive Network), a national organization of about 600 members dedicated to being a catalyst, advocate, and leading resource for institutional and national change that enable the success of all women in engineering.

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Teri Reed-Rhoads Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Teri Reed-Rhoads is assistant dean of engineering for undergraduate education, associate professor of Engineering Education, and director of the First-Year Engineering Program at Purdue University. She holds a B.S. in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma, an M.B.A., and a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Arizona State University. With industry and academic experience, she has received funding from NSF, DoEd, foundations, and industry for research addressing concept inventory development, assessment and evaluation, recruitment/retention topics, leadership, diversity, and equity. She is a Fellow of ASEE and serves as an ABET EAC evaluator. She is also a member of IEEE and IIE.

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Lorie Groll Purdue University

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Women as the Miner’s Canary in Undergraduate Engineering EducationIn this paper, we will examine the metaphor of the Miner’s Canary as it relates to undergraduatewomen majoring in engineering at a large, Midwestern university. Lani Guinier, Gerald Torresand Susan Sturm (2005) have posited the idea that the metaphor of the Miner’s Canary is animportant metaphor for viewing the behavior of those in minority groups in institutions or careerfields. These scholars compare the behavior of minority groups in certain environments to thebehavior of the canary miner’s used to carry with them as an early warning signal (Guinier,2005). Since the canary has a more fragile respiratory system than humans, it is more sensitive tochange in the quality of air in an environment. When the canary would begin to struggle forbreath, the miners took this as a signal that there was a problem with the atmosphere in the mine(Guinier, 2005). Guinier and colleagues (2005) encouraged faculty and administrators to look atthe behavior of minority groups within an institution as sensitive indicators to potentially toxicproblems (Guinier, 2005). By using minority group behavior as a diagnostic tool tounderstanding and analyzing the reactions of minority groups, faculty and administration canbegin to understand the ways in which admissions criteria, pedagogy, curriculum, andinstitutional environments need to be changed to not only support the needs of the minoritygroups but make the environment healthier for all (Guinier, 2005). Women are approximately18% of all undergraduate students in engineering nationally, and 20% of the engineering studentbody at this large Midwestern university. These percentages have remained relatively flat for thelast 10 – 15 years, despite years of national and international research as to the cause of women’sunderrepresentation in engineering, and increasing numbers of programs and activities intendedto improve women’s representation in engineering studies. This paper will explore evidence thatindicates the collective behavior of women majoring in engineering at this institution could bemore sensitive to correlated institutional change. It appears that women’s collective behaviorsare more amplified with respect to correlated positive and negative events at this institution. Byusing the metaphor of the Miner’s Canary in looking at women’s behavior at this institution, thispaper seeks to establish that women engineering students’ collective behavior is a leadingindicator of important issues that impact all students in engineering education.

Holloway, B. M., & Reed-Rhoads, T., & Groll, L. (2011, June), Women as the Miner's Canary in Undergraduate Engineering Education Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18958

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