J. Skaggs

American University in Cairo (EGYPT)
Being a successful female in engineering involves more than just mastering curriculum and technical competencies. It also involves learning how to negotiate one’s personal identity as one’s “professional engineering identity” is also being developed. For this to happen, it is essential to recognize technology and gender as socially constructed. Even as technology and engineering are male-dominated, engineering education is also a predominately masculine culture, resulting in few females pursuing engineering even though they have the ability and desire to do so.

The lack of acknowledgment of gender issues in STEM education unintentionally impedes females at every educational transition. While the BHEF U.S. STEM Education Model (2010) provides an excellent simulation model tracking the flow of students as they move through their education into STEM careers, it does not acknowledge the varying gender implications affecting each transitional stage. Culturally, females are being asked to make continually constraining choices (CeCi & Williams, 2010) regarding their gender identity. These choices increase exponentially in significance throughout their educational and professional careers.

So where are these female students taking their engineering skills and credentials? Females work hard to persist and succeed in their engineering programs, yet professional engineering positions are not necessarily an important component of future plans. For many females, their identity formation during their college career, as they balance being a woman with being an engineer, is precarious resulting in an engineering exodus of females within five years of graduation.

This research is drawn from a larger 4-year ethnographic case study of an American undergraduate engineering program at a Research I institution, looks at individuals through lenses of context and institution, as well as larger cultural paradigms. This research is significant in its use of feminist theory and qualitative methods to study engineering education permitting students to articulate their experiences in their own words and voices thus allowing for nuanced of meaning and understanding to emerge. Baxter Magolda’s (1999) theory of self-authorship provides the conceptual framework with inductive analysis used as the primary tool for data analysis. The females in this study are developing epistemologically, alongside endeavoring to acquire the power to generate and author their own truths as they listen to external voices of authority (including female engineering faculty).

Effective engineering education is strategic in supporting students to achieve authentic identity development alongside increasing their technical skills. When all students believe their personality and skills are good matches for their environment, their self- efficacy and commitment to their academic and professional environment increases. Recognizing gendered practices within engineering education and the larger engineering culture will assist in “stemming the tide” by challenging the masculine standard of engineering to change.