Significant research in the past few decades has documented the experiences and challenges that women in engineering face, not only in a professional setting but also as engineering students (Tonso, 2006; Faulkner, 2005; Cech, 2014). However, few of these studies have reported on the transition from capstone training to engineering practice. Capstone is meant to prepare engineering students for the workplace by simulating engineering work, but this is not the same as preparing women for the (presumably) gendered experiences of engineering work. This study aims to answer the question: What unique challenges do women face in their first year of engineering work?
We ask this question to make way for future questions: What should women be prepared for in transitioning to engineering work? How does capstone prepare or not prepare women for their experiences of their first year in engineering?
Participants for this study are drawn from a larger study of four universities across the United States. The total participant group used for this study included 47 engineering newcomers, 22 identified as “female”, and 25 identified as “male” on a screening questionnaire that included transgender, gender-nonconforming, and an option to skip the question. The data set included interviews with the participants conducted at three, six, and twelve months of work. Interviews were analyzed with multiple rounds of coding to determine which challenges articulated by participants were unique to women.
Results indicate that women face many of the same challenges as men, but also a set of unique challenges, which were sometimes overtly rooted in sexism. The results also point to the influence of different programs’ preparation for workplace challenges - participants graduating from the all women’s college of the study had unique language for describing their challenges, and also approached their challenges differently.
Cech, Erin a. “Engineers and Engineeresses? Self-Conceptions and the Development of Gendered Professional Identities.” Sociological Perspectives 58, no. 1 (2014): 56–77. doi:10.1177/0731121414556543.
Faulkner, Wendy. “‘Nuts and Bolts and People’: Gender-Troubled Engineering Identities.” Social Studies of Science 37, no. 3 (2007): 331–56. doi:10.1177/0306312706072175.
Tonso, Karen L. “Teams That Work: Campus Culture, Engineering Identity, and Social Interactions.” Journal of Engineering Education 95, no. 1 (2006): 25–37. doi:10.1002/j.2168-9830.2006.tb00875.x.
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