Since 2017, I have been a member of Olin’s education research group under Professor Yevgeniya Zastavker. In Fall 2018, we presented our work at the Frontiers in Education (FIE) conference, with myself as the primary author. Our research qualitatively explores student identity in engineering education, through the narratives of college alumni. In our research presented at FIE, we used grounded theory to develop emergent constructs to understand how they perceived as impacting (or not impacting) their interactions in school and workplace settings.
We developed the constructs of impact and awareness to describe how students perceived gender. For a given interaction, a participant’s description was coded as aware of gender if they described a conscious thinking that gender may play a role in the moment, and impacted by gender if they described a specific way in which they believed their or someone else’s gender resulted in the interaction playing out differently. Several participants described experiences where they felt impact but no awareness, characterized by an uncertainty about gender’s role in a situation. We hypothesize that this might be due to the “gender balance” (i.e. having 50% women in the student body) of the institution. Some participants described feeling that gender issues were “fixed” because of the gender balance, which may make other students hesitant to describe a situation as being gendered.
While consisting of a highly specific and limited sample (13 alumni from a gender-balanced engineering college), our research indicated that students navigate and build engineering identity in complex ways. The constructs we found point to deeper, systemic and cultural issues in engineering and engineering education that need to be examined further if we are make engineering more gender-equitable. The full text of our paper can be viewed at the IEEE website.