Although initiatives and programs designed to broaden participation in academic institutions have generated many positive changes, the proportions of women, African American, Hispanic, and Native American students have not seen commensurate increases in engineering fields. Diversifying the undergraduate engineering population has important consequences for our nation’s ability to meet the increasing demands for a larger technological and scientific labor force. While diversifying engineering in the aggregate is both timely and critical, it is equally important to consider the level of diversity within each engineering discipline (e.g., Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, Chemical). When engineering disciplines are disaggregated, it is clear that some disciplines are less diverse than others. Focusing on diversity at the discipline level has important implications for the design of effective department level programs and curricular interventions to promote participation and persistence of a broad range of students. Thus, this research examines the causes and consequences of the demographic variation across engineering disciplines
This research applies a mixed methods approach to focus on a critical decision juncture—selection into an engineering major. Using organizational demography and the social cognitive theory of self regulation as theoretical frameworks, the following research questions are addressed:
• Which demographic characteristics are associated with engineering major choice?
• Why do students choose engineering and how do students choose between the different engineering disciplines?
Methods include descriptive analysis and logistic regression of over 20,000 individual student-level data from a large, Midwestern research university to identify factors that influence student selection into a particular engineering major. Thematic analysis of 39 engineering student interviews provides rich details regarding the major selection process. Preliminary findings indicate that women are more likely than men to choose Chemical engineering, whereas Hispanic/Latino students are more likely to choose Electrical or Industrial engineering versus other majors. African American students are more likely to choose Chemical or Electrical engineering compared to other majors. Consistent with previous literature, students cite the following reasons for majoring in engineering: (1) parental influence, (2) high school teachers and programs, (3) college curriculum and programs, (4) professional/career-related aspirations, and (5) desires to help society.
Research findings provide context and information for various potential applications to increase discipline-specific diversity, such as developing new strategies/interventions to support success among underrepresented students, identifying overlooked areas in classroom environments, providing critical information for the development of surveys and larger-scale studies for investigating diversity across engineering. University administrators, faculty, and stakeholders could use these findings to help develop strategies to encourage more women and underrepresented students to pursue engineering and to consider more fully the wide range of engineering disciplines available.
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