An interpretive case study of perceptions and experiences of undergraduate women in engineering majors at Iowa State University

Haggray, Mildred
Major Professor
Daniel C. Robinson
Committee Member
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Curriculum and Instruction

The purpose of this study was to describe and analyze the perceptions and experiences of selected undergraduate women in engineering majors at Iowa State University. Using qualitative research methods, the researcher described and analyzed the effects of selected educational environment factors on the persistence of women in engineering majors. Educational environment factors that provided the focus for the study included: classroom climate, interaction with faculty and peers, and internal support systems. Related factors that were examined included: personal fit with the major, academic preparation, and career aspirations, and preferred teaching and learning styles and methodologies. Primary data sources included semi-structured individual interviews with nine undergraduate women representing each undergraduate classification level and two focus group discussions with six to eight undergraduate women in engineering majors. Supplementary data were obtained from a related survey of undergraduate women in engineering majors sponsored by the Program for Women in Science and Engineering. A discussion and analysis of the actual experiences and perceptions of the research participants are included. Findings from the study identified negative academic environment concerns, (e.g. sexism, harassment, sex role stereotyping), inadequate and ineffective internal support systems, (e.g. poor and inadequate advising, lack of consistent mentoring and research opportunities, inadequate academic preparation in practical knowledge of scientific concepts), and lack of sufficient peer support, as some of the problems female students are experiencing in engineering. Several strategies were identified that faculty and administrators may utilize to raise awareness of the issues and concerns of female students in male dominated disciplines.