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Women in Engineering: Promoting Identity Exploration and Professional Development

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Maureen C Smith San Jose State University

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Dr. Smith received her BA in Psychology from U.C. Davis and her Ph.D in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University. Dr. Smith is a Professor of Child and Adolescent Development in the Lurie College of Education at San Jose State University. She has significant experience with curriculum and program development, including the development of a combined BA-Credential for her department and a First Year Experience program for the university. Her research interests include development of self-concept/identity/professional development in college students, imagination/creativity, reading for pleasure, and maltreatment/foster care in economically, linguistically, and culturally diverse samples.

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Jinny Rhee San Jose State University

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Dr. Jinny Rhee is the associate dean of the College of Engineering at San Jose State University. She oversees all aspects of the undergraduate programs in the college. Her research interests include administration of programs supporting student success, in addition to thermal management of heat and power systems. Dr. Rhee received a PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford University (1995).

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Belle Wei San Jose State University

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Belle Wei is Carolyn Guidry Chair in Engineering Education and Innovative Learning at San José State University (SJSU). Previous roles include: Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at California State University, Chico; a decade of service as the Don Beall Dean of Engineering in the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at SJSU; faculty member of SJSU since 1987; and visiting Associate Professor at Stanford University in 1993. She is founder and Board Chair of the Center for Advancing Women in Technology, which established the Technology Pathways Initiative (TPI) in 2015. The TPI provides computing education to more diverse students by developing new interdisciplinary computing programs through an alliance of universities and industry. In 2006, Dr. Wei spoke before the U.S. Congress about the “Innovation Agenda,” contributing to the America COMPETES Act (2007). Dr. Wei holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences and a B.S. in Biophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and an M.S. in Engineering from Harvard University.

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Engineering colleges are concerned about retention of women, especially women of color, in their programs. One possible solution is to promote undergraduate women’s engineering identity. This paper describes an evaluation of a one-day technical and professional development conference for undergraduate women in engineering and computer science, which focused on understanding and facilitating engineering identity.

Data on the impact of the conference and engineering identity, were collected in pre- and post-conference surveys. The pre-conference survey assessed demographic information (e.g., first generation status, ethnicity), engineering student identity (i.e., commitment to engineering major; engineering competence, and engineering agency), social support, and reasons for attending. The post-conference survey assessed engineering student identity, ratings of self- and “engineer” creativity, professional identity, and evaluations of the conference.

193 participants returned pre-conference surveys and 103 returned post-conference surveys. Most were engineering (54%) and computer science (38%) majors; 46% were Asian, 28% LatinX; and 65% received financial aid. Correlations, MANOVA, regression, and content analyses were used to analyze the data.

Participants reported the conference was highly valuable. Both pre- and post-conference surveys revealed positive associations between commitment, competence, and agency, suggesting that undergraduate women view their engineering identities as a coherent set. Results indicated that the strength of a participant’ professional identity is shaped by first-generation status and knowing an engineer. They also indicated that women undergraduates do not rate themselves as being as creative as a “typical engineer”, and there is a strong association between self-ratings of creativity and professional identity. Engineering identity is discussed in the context of participants’ reported goals for the conference and its benefits. Suggestions for promoting engineering identity are described.

Smith, M. C., & Rhee, J., & Wei, B. (2020, June), Women in Engineering: Promoting Identity Exploration and Professional Development Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35585

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