Study Finds That Retention Programs Aimed at Women in Engineering May Be More Effective When Race Is Considered

Programs to increase the number of women in science and engineering programs have become commonplace across the nation. But a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for Workforce Development finds that recruiting and retention programs aimed at women may be more effective when race is factored into the effort.

A survey of 10,500 engineering students at 21 U.S. colleges and universities found that black students did not think they were taken less seriously in the classroom than other students. But Hispanic women believed that they were not taken seriously by the peers. Black women reported that they were often singled out in the classroom by their professors. But unlike other women in the survey, black women reported that they had no reluctance to approach their professors with questions outside the classroom.

Elizabeth Litzler, research director at the Center for Workforce Development, told Science Daily, “Women’s experiences are different, which is why grouping all women together doesn’t make sense. Having a better understanding of where students may be coming from may be able to help us direct them, and give them suggestions that may lead them staying in engineering.”

Dr. Litzler presented the findings of the study at the annual meeting of the American Society for Engineering Education in Vancouver, British Columbia. The research is funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Dr. Litzler holds bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington. Her Ph.D. dissertation in sociology was titled, “Sex Segregation in Undergraduate Engineering Majors.”

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