To improve opportunities for women student veterans in engineering (WSVE), our qualitative study contributes to the body of knowledge about women SVEs and female gender identity in engineering. Our exploratory research presents information about WSVEs’ pathways into engineering and begins to unpack the factors related to WSVEs’ gender, military and engineering identities.
The research was guided by three main questions:
1. Why do WSVEs pursue a Bachelor’s degree in engineering?
2. How do military experiences shape WSVEs’ educational experiences?
3. To what extent are the WSVEs’ current engineering education experiences shaped by their gender, veteran, and engineering identities?
We interviewed seven WSVEs about their transition out of the military and into engineering programs at four institutions. Participants also completed an identity exercise articulating the extent to which various components of their identity were most central to their core self (e.g., woman, engineering student, socioeconomic status, veteran or military status, etc.).
The analysis of the participants’ narratives reveals several themes: (1) there is often a connection between WSVEs’ military occupational specialty (MOS) and their decision to pursue an engineering degree program; (2) the participants’ military experiences served to support their academic experiences in engineering; (3) the participants do not directly indicate that gender identity is particularly salient to their military experience or in engineering; however, their narratives illuminate how they conceptualize engineering identity as central to their experiences; and (4) although participants did not indicate that gender was central to their identities and experiences, nearly all of them discussed relational elements, including the significance of relationships and caregiving to their educational experiences. That is, family roles (e.g., daughter, wife, sister) were central to their identity, even if the women did not say that gender, per se, was salient.
Our initial results offer insights into the unique experiences of women who served in the military and who then chose to advance their careers and education in engineering. Policies and programs for WSVEs should account for previous military experience related to engineering, the similar male-dominated cultures both the military and engineering fields possess, and the importance of family- and relationship-oriented responsibilities to WSVEs.
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