Summary from Research Proposal
As of Fall 2001, 58% of the undergraduate majors in Industrial Engineering (IE) at the
University of Oklahoma (OU) are women. This proportion is strikingly higher than both the nationwide proportion in IE and the proportion in other STEM degree programs at OU. Furthermore, the proportion has more than doubled in the space of five years, having steadily increased from 27% in 1996. This phenomenon is especially puzzling because IE at OU did not set out specifically to accomplish gender parity among its undergraduate majors. It should be noted that IE at OU also has a high proportion of women faculty (4 of 10 faculty, 40%), which is one of the factors identified by Seymour and Hewitt (1997) as having an impact on retention of women majors. This phenomenon alone is unlikely to account for the present gender parity, as evidenced by nationwide trends in other disciplines (e.g., chemical engineering and computer science). We propose to investigate this phenomenon in order to contribute to the knowledge about increasing the representation of women in STEM undergraduate majors and to make recommendations both for systemic efforts and for future research directions. We consider it particularly critical to investigate combinations of factors that affect students’ choices.
Our primary source of data will be interviews with students. For each of the three project years, we will interview students at multiple levels from sophomore to senior, as well as alumni thus gathering information about experiences not only from across cohorts but longitudinally following cohorts as they progress through degree programs. As part of our design, we will probe systemic factors that help/hinder departments in their efforts to achieve gender equity goals, an undertaking that will involve additional departments at OU as well as departments at other institutions. This design will enable us to identify combinations of factors by targeting departments that vary in the extent to which such factors are present (e.g., departments that have a relatively high proportion of women faculty and those that have lower proportions). To assure triangulation, other sources of data will include student transcript records, the Pittsburgh Engineering Attitudes survey, and interviews with faculty, program directors, advisors, and graduate students, all of whom affect student experiences in college.
We will conduct interviews of students. Each interview will last 60-90 minutes, with
questions related to each of six factor categories, which are based on a review of the literature and a small pilot study. During the first year, we will interview only IE majors at OU. From this data, we will develop both knowledge about the factors at play and an efficient analysis system for compiling the results. In the second and third years, we will interview students at OU majoring in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physics, in addition to students majoring in Industrial Engineering. Finally, during the third year, we will include additional interviews of IE majors at three other large, public, predominantly white, geographically diverse, research institutions.