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Work in Progress: A Qualitative Exploration of Female Undergraduate Decisions to Specialize within Engineering Disciplines

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 10

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Women in Engineering

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M. Teresa Cardador University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Karin Jensen University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Karin Jensen, Ph.D. is a Teaching Assistant Professor in bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include student mental health and wellness, engineering student career pathways, and engagement of engineering faculty in engineering education research. She was awarded a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for her research on undergraduate mental health in engineering programs. Before joining UIUC she completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Sanofi Oncology in Cambridge, MA. She earned a bachelor's degree in biological engineering from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Virginia.

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Kelly J Cross University of Nevada, Reno

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Dr. Cross is currently an Assistant Professor in the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at the University Nevada Reno. After completing her PhD in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech in 2015, Dr. Cross worked as a post-doctoral researcher with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education and in the Department of Bioengineering with the Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) grant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Cross' scholarship investigated student teams in engineering, faculty communities of practice, and the intersectionality of multiple identity dimensions. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion in STEM, intersectionality, teamwork and communication skills, assessment, and identity construction. Her teaching philosophy focuses on student centered approaches such as culturally relevant pedagogy. Dr. Cross' complimentary professional activities promote inclusive excellence through collaboration.

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Grisel Lopez-Alvarez University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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This is a work in progress examining female undergraduate decisions to specialize within engineering disciplines. While engineering has long been recognized as one of the most highly and persistently sex segregated occupations in the US, researchers have also begun to recognize patterns of intra-occupational sex segregation within engineering, such that gendered roles and career paths exist in the engineering profession. Men are more frequently in the most technical roles—which are often perceived as the highest status and most characteristic of “real engineering” (and are also stereotypically masculine), and women in the less technical roles that are perceived as lower status and are stereotypically feminine. This under-representation of women in the most technically-oriented roles may be problematic given that female engineers in more technically-oriented career paths have better retention and wage equality outcomes. Given these gendered career patterns, it is important to understand when these patterns begin to emerge. In this research, we explore one possible “upstream” antecedent--female engineering students’ elective track specialization—because this is a decision that shapes the remainder of their engineering education and preparation, and should thus have important implications for their downstream career attitudes and decisions. To explore this possibility, the present longitudinal study seeks to identify to what extent female and male engineering undergraduates in one university setting pursue different elective tracks within engineering majors, to pinpoint the personal and structural factors contributing to female students track selection, and to link elective track decisions with career choices post-graduation. Toward these goals, we are collecting institutional data and conducting multi-year interviews with engineering department faculty, staff, advisors, and female students. Study design and preliminary themes identified from institutional data and interviews will be presented. This study may shed light on how to reduce persistent intra-occupational sex segregation within engineering.

Cardador, M. T., & Jensen, K., & Cross, K. J., & Lopez-Alvarez, G. (2020, June), Work in Progress: A Qualitative Exploration of Female Undergraduate Decisions to Specialize within Engineering Disciplines Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35600

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