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Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
SJR: 0.468 SNIP: 0.671 CiteScore™: 1.65

ISSN Print: 1072-8325
ISSN Online: 1940-431X

Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering

DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.2012003702
pages 55-78

AN EXPLORATION OF GENDER DIVERSITY IN ENGINEERING PROGRAMS: A CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION-BASED PERSPECTIVE

David B. Knight
Department of Engineering Education, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA
Lisa R. Lattuca
Center for Postsecondary and Higher Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1259, USA
Alexander Yin
Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802-4819, USA
Gul Kremer
Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, School of Engineering Design, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
Travis York
Department of Education Policy Studies, Higher Education Program, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
Hyun Kyoung Ro
1Higher Education and Student Affairs, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, USA

ABSTRACT

Both the government and industry recognize the need for an innovative and diverse engineering workforce for the US to maintain global competitiveness. Because women comprise less than a fifth of engineering undergraduates, it important to identify practices that may counteract this gender gap in engineering. Unlike other work focused on recruitment and retention of women, this study relies on research and theory on college students to inform the overall research design. It explores how variations in curricular emphases, instructional practices, and students' perceptions of climate across disciplines are related to gender disparities across engineering disciplines. Data are drawn from a nationally representative survey of students from 121 programs at 31 institutions. No research to date has systematically examined the relationship between curricular experiences and gender disparity on such a large scale. Analyses clearly demonstrate differences in gender diversity across the engineering disciplines−programs in mechanical and electrical engineering are significantly less diverse by gender than biomedical/bioengineering, chemical, civil, general, and industrial engineering. Thus, efforts to recruit and retain women students should develop strategies for specific disciplines, perhaps looking beyond traditional efforts that have focused on climate and instead examining curriculum or instructional strategies. This research indicates that females may gravitate toward or persist in disciplines that emphasize thinking from a broad, systems perspective in which instructors explicitly link topics across disciplines in their courses. The less diverse electrical and mechanical engineering disciplines could place a greater emphasis on such topics as an effort to boost their attractiveness to females.


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