Study Seeks to Improve Retention Among Women Engineering Students

One of the first efforts to analyze impact of experiential learning on retention

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A national research collaboration seeks to shed new light on how the educational environment for engineers impacts female students and to assist engineering schools in improving female retention rates.

Rochester Institute of Technology, as part of a multi-university partnership funded by the National Science Foundation, will investigate the impact of experiential learning on self-confidence and retention of female engineering students.

Previous studies have indicated that women in engineering programs are more likely to lose confidence, also referred to as self-efficacy, compared with their male counterparts and this has been linked to lower retention rates. Experiential learning through experiences such as cooperative education is seen as a way to address this issue.

“By studying the linkages between self efficacy and the engineering student environment we can better understand the factors, both academic and social, that affect retention among female engineering students,” notes Margaret Bailey, associate professor of mechanical engineering and executive director of the Women in Engineering Program at RIT.

The study is one of the first to investigate how co-op opportunities and other formal work experience programs impact the retention rate of female undergraduate engineering students. It will also examine programs such as mentoring, advising and academic living communities to analyze the impact on student self-confidence and retention.

According to the National Science Foundation, women currently make up only 19.5 percent AP of engineering bachelor degree recipients and 11 percent of professional engineering positions.

“Because of the underrepresentation of women within the engineering profession, this research is important in identifying factors which lead to women students successfully completing their degrees in engineering,” Bailey adds.

The effort is being conducted in partnership with Northeastern University, the University of Wyoming and Virginia Tech.