‘We Weren’t Intentionally Excluding Them…Just Old Habits’: Women (Lack of) Interest and an Engineering Student Competition Team

Abstract
Student, experiential-learning, engineering, competition teams (SELECT) provide an opportunity for engineering students to practice engineering technical and professional skills. The low representation of women in SELECT is often rationalized as a lack of interest by individual women rather than systemic processes that discourage or exclude women. We employ a qualitative-interpretive design and a cultural constructionist lens to bring into focus the interplay of individual interests, understandings of appropriate gender roles, and structural elements that contribute to a culture of inclusion or exclusion. Primary data consist of 90-minute semi-structured interviews of eight team members and one non-member. By interpreting the narrative portraits of two female students, we show the construction of a team culture where in general women are discouraged from participation based on stereotyped gender roles, by night campus attitudes, and by peers who challenge or ignore their skills, contributions, and interests. One woman persevered through the male-dominated culture because she received the encouragement and support of male peers who engaged as comrades and champions. This paper offers recommendations for institutions to demonstrate commitment to equitable access to experiential learning and to nurture student peer cultures that challenge historic gendered ideologies and rhetoric.

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Foor, C. E., S. E. Walden, R. L. Shehab and D. A. Trytten (2013). ‘We Weren’t Intentionally Excluding Them…Just Old Habits’: Women (Lack of) Interest and an Engineering Student Competition Team. Proceedings of 43rd ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Oklahoma City, OK, IEEE. DOI: 10.1109/FIE.2013.6684846

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