The social construction of female engineers : a qualitative case study of engineering education
Anderson, Inger-Johanne Tveten
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This research is a case study of three important phases of engineering education: the social factors influencing young women and men in choosing engineering as a profession, what causes students to discontinue their studies, and the students' educational, social and cultural experiences during their education. The study is within the framework of feminist standpoint epistemology and uses both qualitative and quantitative methods, giving the study both depth and breadth. The data derive from a demographic survey of one first-year cohort in an engineering college, from non-participant observations in first, third, and fourth-year engineering classes, but primarily from in-depth, tape-recorded interviews with male and female students at the first and fourth year levels of study and with students who transferred to other disciplines. Data collection took place between September, 1996 and April, 1998. Major findings point to a chilly climate in the college of engineering where a masculine culture tends to exclude the female students from equal and equitable educational experiences. This culture, which in addition to exclusionary features includes a heavy workload with little time left for outside activities, was a major reason for attrition from the engineering program. There are also indications of an environment where male harassment of female students cause significant discomfort to women. However, women's attempts to voice their objection to such treatment are met with further exaggeration of the problem. The women are also labelled as troublemakers, poor sports, poor team-players, and lacking a sense of humour. The college exploited a committee of female students as volunteers in its recruitment strategy. This committee earned high praise from the administrative level, having raised the ratio of first-year female students from 5% to 22% at the same time as the college increased enrollment limit from 300 to 410 students. However, it had low prestige among the students. This research is significant in its use of feminist theory and methodology and using a qualitative method that allows the students own words and voices to express their day-to-day, lived experiences in the college.