Women's Experiences in the Transition from Capstone Design Courses to Engineering Workplaces
Substantial research over the past few decades has documented the challenges women experience both as students in engineering programs and as professionals in engineering workplaces. Few studies, however, have followed women from one context to the other to explore the ways in which school experiences, and particularly capstone experiences designed explicitly to facilitate this transition, do and do not prepare women for their work as practicing engineers. To address this gap, we draw on data from a larger multi-institution study to address the question, “How do women engineers experience the transition from school to work?”
The sample for this study includes 23 participants from four different universities (three mechanical engineering programs and one engineering science program). All participants identified as “female” on a screen questionnaire that included options for transgender and gender-nonconforming, as well as an option to skip the question. The data set includes interviews with the participants conducted at the end of their capstone design course, responses to open-ended questions sent each week during their first 12 weeks of work, and interviews conducted after their first three months of work. The capstone interviews explored participants’ experiences in their capstone design course, including project role, significant challenges and accomplishments, and perceived learning, as well as their plans for and expectations of their post-graduation work. The weekly open-ended questions asked participants to describe their most significant challenge over the past week and to explain how they addressed the challenge. Finally, the three-month interviews explored participants’ work experiences, including significant challenges as well as similarities and differences between capstone experiences and work, along with their evolving definitions of engineering.
To answer the research question, we will employ thematic analysis to first identify emergent codes from the data set and subsequently synthesize those codes into themes. Preliminary review of the data suggests several potential themes that include overt experiences of gender discrimination, perceptions of (lack of) belonging or competence, and cultural shifts that may not have been effectively addresses in participants’ capstone courses or broader experiences.
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