Support Factors and Persistence in Engineering

While there is a general shortage of engineers, the need is acute in the under­represented  areas such as women and minorities. According to the Building Engineering and Science Talent  (BEST) (2002) report, the U.S. is not developing an appropriate scientific and technical  workforce for the future and calls for greater efforts to increase the representation of women and  minorities. This shortage isn’t limited to the United States. Hersh (2000), in longitudinal research  conducted at 130 institutions in 55 countries on the changing position of women engineers worldwide, found that while conditions for women in engineering are improving, “there are still  so few women engineers as to make them seem unusual or even abnormal” (p. 357). Attracting  qualified women into engineering programs is only the beginning? it is also essential to retain the  women in the pipeline through completion and successful entry into the workforce. The under­representation of women in engineering is widely reported and many  marketing and mentoring programs have been developed by various engineering groups. However, attraction of more women is not enough. It is both inefficient and ineffective to push  more women into the so called education “pipeline” without consideration of the probability of their completion and long term service to the engineering community. “Direct or vicarious encouragement (academic integration) or discouragement (discrimination) from a teacher will  affect both one’s sense of self and ensuing motivation to strive for academic mastery by using  self­regulated learning strategies” (Vogt, 2003, p. 222). Given the goals of increasing the  number of women in the engineering field and the importance of helping faculty to increase the  success and persistence of female students, this study sought to extend prior research findings on  the connection between support factors and persistence in engineering programs and beyond to  the workforce. This study explored this issue through two facets. The first was a review of recent empirical studies on support factors for increasing persistence of women in engineering  programs to better identify the most effective elements of support. The second part, a qualitative  study, explored those relevant support factors in­depth and extended the field of study to include  practicing women engineers.


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