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Society of Women Engineers

Latest Research on Girls’ Interest in Engineering Degrees

New research on girls’ interest in pursuing engineering degrees was presented at this year’s American Educational Research Association conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this month.

Published On: April 2016

My name is Roberta Rincon, and I am privileged to have recently joined SWE as its new Manager of Research. My background is in higher education research and policy analysis, but I feel that I am coming full circle in my new role, applying my education and work experience towards a meaningful purpose. My goal in this new role is to support SWE’s efforts to inform and advise members, companies, government entities, the media, etc., of issues affecting women in engineering and technology.

Given my experience in the higher education sector, I am appreciative of the work that researchers across the country and around the world are doing to understand issues of access and equity in the STEM fields. Unfortunately, too often that work is shared among colleagues within academic circles and not enough among those who can make change happen, including policy makers and industry leaders.

I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s American Educational Research Association conference in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. This event brings together researchers with interests ranging across all areas of the educational pipeline, including topics involving STEM, gender equity, and diversity. I wanted to share with SWE members some of the interesting research that is being done to understand factors that can affect girls’ interest in pursuing an engineering degree.

  • Sitting in a session entitled “Disclosing Women Voices Around STEM Fields and Applied Uses,” I listened to SWE member Dr. Ceal Craig discuss her research involving the importance of social cohesion and peer support, forms of social capital, in inspiring young women to pursue STEM careers. Her study centered on a successful robotics program in California and the experiences and outcomes of girls that participated in the program. Her findings parallel those of Brian Rubineau of McGill University, a SWE collaborator, who stresses the importance of peer networks in supporting women’s career success in STEM.
  • Tonya Perry, an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Education, shared her work with early adolescents and digital literacy. She talked about the Creator versus Consumer, as it relates to technology. She stated that girls are more likely than boys to be consumers of technology, and to increase girls’ interest in STEM careers we must provide them with more opportunities to be creators and inventors.
  • Lisa Zagumny, Dr. Sally Pardue, and Dr. Holly Garrett Anthony discussed their investigation of female engineering undergraduates’ experiences at Tennessee Technological University. They wanted to know why the percentage of female students graduating from their college had dropped significantly over time. Some students interviewed commented that the engineering college was a “chilly environment,” while others mentioned the need for more active learning and mentoring. One interesting tidbit that came out of their interviews with female students was that, though some did not intend to become engineers after graduation, there was a desire to prove to themselves that they could complete the degree. Perseverance as motivation.

In support of our outreach and advocacy efforts, SWE is working to better understand the research that can help us support our mission to help women achieve their full career potential in the engineering profession. SWE has recently undertaken studies to provide insight into workplace experiences and workplace culture, and SWE will continue to conduct studies aimed at improving the rates at which women choose to pursue an engineering degree and stay in the profession.

I am excited to be a part of this wonderful organization! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at research@swe.org.

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