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Posted 07.06.05
 
 
   

Study Finds Female Engineering Students Suffer from Low Expectations, Lack of Confidence

COLUMBIA, MO -- A constant challenge in the engineering field is successfully recruiting and retaining women. Recent studies show that women comprise only 20 percent of undergraduate engineering school enrollment nationwide and only 8.5 percent of engineers in the United States. A new study by a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that women's reported expectations and confidence drops as they study engineering, thus causing them to leave the field.

"Approximately 50 colleges and universities across the country have established Women in Engineering (WIE) programs to respond to the lack of women in the field; however, the effectiveness of these programs has varied tremendously," said Rose Marra, assistant professor of learning technologies at MU, who conducted the study with Barbara Bogue, former director of Penn State's Women in Engineering program.

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In the study, Marra collected survey responses from 202 undergraduate women studying engineering, some involved in WIE programs, at four institutions: Penn State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas-Austin and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute over the course of one year. The survey examined, among other things, feelings of self-efficacy and the sources of barriers and obstacles in obtaining an engineering degree.

While the results are preliminary, Marra found that women experienced significant drops in their confidence over the year she examined, but that the WIE members suffered less than those not involved in the program. In the coming year, Marra plans to increase the size of the study, examine the data by year in school and ethnicity status, and attempt to explain why there's inconsistent evidence of the impact of participating in WIE programs.

"For these programs to be maximally effective, they must have access to validated assessment instruments for measuring the effectiveness of their recruitment and retention activities for WIE studies," Marra said.  "Such assessment results can provide the basis for the development and revamping of effective activities designed to meet program objectives and missions."

Marra recently presented her findings at the American Society of Engineering Education's Annual Conference and Exposition. The study is part of the National Science Foundation-funded Assessing Women in Engineering project.

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