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Women in Computing and Engineering: Differences between Persisters and Nonpersisters

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

Gender Track - Technical Session III

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Gender

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Paper Authors


Tim John Weston University of Colorado, Boulder

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Tim Weston is a research associate for the University of Colorado’s Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) where he has conducted evaluation and research on NSF, Department of Education, NASA and private foundation funded projects for 19 years. Weston specializes in the evaluation of programs with educational technology interventions, assessing new STEM curricula and teaching methods, and the design of tests and surveys. He is also part of the research project Talking About Leaving Revisited which examines why undergraduates leave STEM majors.

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Wendy DuBow National Center for Women & IT

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Dr. Wendy DuBow is director of evaluation at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and affiliate faculty member in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Colorado. She conducts mixed methods social science research, creates practical print and multimedia resources, and evaluates the effectiveness of the various programs and materials NCWIT produces. Her research has explored the role of male advocates for gender diversity in the technology industry, the mechanisms of organizational change, and the circumstances that support female and minority persistence in computing.

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Alexis Kaminsky Kaminsky Consulting, LLC

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As part of an ongoing three-year study, we surveyed women in high school and college. At two points in time, 523 women answered survey questions based on Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), a widely used vocational model which assesses the constructs of Interest in Computing, Confidence in Computing, and perceived Social Supports and Barriers. The second survey also asked about college major and post-graduate employment. Our analyses compared persisters in computer science and related technology fields to those who did not persist in these fields. We found significant differences between groups (with persisters having higher scores) on all three measures, and these differences widened over time. For both groups, computing interest decreased from high school to college, regardless of major, but tech majors’ interest decreased less than did non-majors and can be explained by their move into subspecialties. Not surprisingly, computing confidence increased for persisters but decreased for non-persisters. Perceived support for computing from teachers, family and friends for both groups remained stable between high school and college, regardless of major, although persisters perceived significantly more support for computing than did non-persisters. Another important finding was that high schoolers’ responses to a single survey item about intent to persist predicted later persistence moderately well. Seventy-two percent of those students who said in high school that they were interested in pursuing a CS or tech-related college major did so during college. Thus, we learned that for many girls, plans about future area of study remain relatively constant from high school to college. This finding has implications for improving how we evaluate interventions aimed at high school women when longitudinal tracking is impractical. The SCCT-related findings suggest which constructs are important to try to influence in students early on and timing interventions for the greatest impact on broadening participation in technology fields.

Weston, T. J., & DuBow, W., & Kaminsky, A. (2018, April), Women in Computing and Engineering: Differences between Persisters and Nonpersisters Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--29595

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