From a sociocultural point of view, this qualitative case study explored how upper-level, female undergraduate engineering students perceived the possibility of or experience with stereotype threat as shaping their experiences. The study also investigated how these students explained their reasons for choosing their engineering major, the challenges they encountered in the major, and their reasons for persevering in spite of those challenges. Using Steele and Aronson’s (1995) stereotype threat theory as a framework, and considering the documented underrepresentation of females in engineering, the study sought to examine how stereotype threat shaped the experiences of these students and if stereotype threat could be considered a valid reason for the underrepresentation.
The study was conducted at a large, four-year public university. First, students in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology completed the Participant Screening Survey. Based on responses from the survey, six female engineering students from the college were identified and invited to participate in the study. The participants came from the following majors: Electrical Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. After receiving the study consent letter and agreeing to participate, the students were involved in a 90-minute focus group meeting, a 45-minute one-on-one interview, and a 30-minute follow-up interview.
After conducting the data collection methods, the data were then transcribed, analyzed, and coded for theme development. The themes that emerged coincided with each research question. The themes highlighted the complex interactions and experiences shared by the female engineering majors.
The female students were enveloped in an environment where there existed an increased risk for activating stereotype threat. In addition, the female students described feeling pushed to prove to themselves and to others that the negative stereotype that ‘females are bad at engineering’ was untrue. The findings illustrated the need for systematic changes at the university level. Intervention recommendations were provided. In regards to female underrepresentation in science fields, including engineering, stereotype threat certainly had the potential to cause the female students to question themselves, their abilities, their choice of an academic major, and subsequently remove themselves from a hostile learning or working environment. Thus, educational institutions and workplace organizations are responsible for not only educating themselves regarding stereotype threat, but also for taking steps to alleviate the pernicious effects of stereotype threat.
|Advisor:||Wilkins, Elizabeth A.|
|Commitee:||Dugas, Daryl, Ladue, Nicole|
|School:||Northern Illinois University|
|Department:||Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations|
|School Location:||United States -- Illinois|
|Source:||DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Educational sociology, Educational psychology, Engineering, Science education|
|Keywords:||Engineering, Female, STEM, Stereotype, Stereotype threat, Student experience|
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