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Examining women's roles in engineering

A new, 1.4 million dollar research project in the Department of Engineering Education seeks to explain why female engineering faculty persist in the field despite the challenges that may face them based on race, gender, and class. Led by Dr. Monica CoxWhy We Persist: An Intersectional Study to Characterize and Examine the Experiences of Women Tenure-Track Faculty in Engineering will address the current, inadequate body of research and data concerning gender-based differences in STEM education and participation in the workforce.

"The idea for this grant was birthed from my personal experiences" says the professor and chair of Ohio State's newest department within the College of Engineering. "I started to question why there were so few women of color in my engineering classrooms and, as I advanced to my faculty position in a College of Engineering, why I saw even fewer women of color in engineering on a daily basis." 

The research project, which will include collaborators from Purdue University and Vanderbilt University, will involve descriptive and trend analyses of data collected from 350 institutions by the American Society for Engineering Education, followed by a national survey of women selected from the same database. These steps will be augmented by data collected through institutional analyses, a small pilot study, and face-to-face interviews. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF), which supports the study, states that "these data sources will collectively document unique characteristics, experiences, and factors about oppressions faced by women who persist in engineering." The findings of the project could lead to other studies and ultimately, methods by which institutions may alleviate some of the challenges that face women pursuing engineering careers.

Professor Cox looks forward to exploring this subject. "Over 15 years after I first asked that question in my graduate engineering program, I have an opportunity to explore, empirically, why women of color persist despite the barriers they face. There is something to be said for women who not only survive in academia, but thrive there. Their voices need to be heard, and this project offers a way to do that."

Additional information for this article provided by the National Science Foundation.