Meagan Pollock is a 2014 graduate of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, and is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Read the abstract from her dissertation research below, and download the full work.

Multiple Case Study Analysis of Young Women’s Experiences in High School Engineering

Abstract

At a time when engineers are in critical demand, women continue to be significantly underrepresented in engineering fields (11.7%) and degree programs (21.3%) in the United States. As a result, there is a national demand for improved K-12 STEM education and targeted efforts to improve equity and access to engineering and science careers for every underrepresented group.

High school engineering has become a nascent and growing market for developers and an emergent opportunity for students across the United States to learn introductory engineering skills through strategic career pathways; however there is a disparity in participation at this level as well. Much useful research has been used to examine the problematization of underrepresentation (K Beddoes, 2011), but there is a dearth of literature that helps us to understand the experiences of young women in high school engineering. By examining the experiences of young women in high school engineering, we can learn ways to improve the curriculum, pedagogy, and environment for underrepresented groups such as females to ensure they have equitable access to these programs and are subsequently motivated to persist in engineering.

Understanding the needs of marginalized groups is complex, and intersectional feminism seeks to understand gender in relation to other identities such as race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and nationality. This theory asserts that gender alone is neither a total identity nor a universal experience, and it is thus advantageous to consider each of the intersecting layers of identity so as to not privilege a dominate group as representative of all women. Thus, to understand how female students engage with and experience engineering in grade school, it is useful to examine through the lens of gender, class, race, and sexuality, because this intersection frames much of the human experience.

The purpose of this study is to examine high school females’ experiences in engineering, with a goal to richly describe the diversity of experiences. A multiple case study analysis, this study answers the question: How do gender, class, race, and other components of intersectionality, influence high school females’ experiences in engineering? Nine young women taking a high school engineering course in a suburban high school in Central Texas during the school year 2011-2012 volunteered to participate. The students were observed in their engineering classes for half of the spring 2012 semester, with bi-weekly interviews with the students, monthly interviews with the teacher, and a single interview with a parent of each volunteer.

The nine rich case studies provide us with new stories that help prevent us from narrowing the experiences of women to a single incomplete stereotype, because these young women vary across race, socioeconomic backgrounds, and sexual orientation. Although each story is unique, there are commonalities among their experiences, including family, influence, classroom environment, biases, and beliefs. By drawing from their collective experiences in high school engineering, the findings direct us toward recommendations for educators, parents, engineering curriculum developers, designers of teacher professional development, and future research to improve equity and access for every student in engineering.

Download Dr. Meagan Pollock’s complete dissertation [2.2 MB PDF]

Committee

Dr. Monica Cardella [Chair], Purdue University

Dr. Alice Pawley, Purdue University

Dr. Senay Purzer, Purdue University

Dr. Richard Gale, Texas Tech University

Dr. Susan Walden, University of Oklahoma

Portfolio

One of the requirements for graduating from the Purdue University Engineering Education Doctoral Program is to satisfactorily develop and produce work related to ten core competency areas. Review those here.

Funding

This work was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, DGE-1333468.