Gendered Elective Track Choice in Engineering Undergraduate Education: Antecedents and Career Path Implications

Teresa Cardador, Karin Jensen, Kelly J. Cross, Grisel Lopez-Alvarez, Andrea J. Kunze

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


With support from the NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) Program, this Institutional and Community Transformation project aims to serve the national interest of broadening participation by improving the representation of women in more technically-oriented roles and career paths within engineering. Research has shown that women who pursue engineering careers are more likely than their male counterparts to be in less technical roles and careers paths, and these gendered career patterns increase attrition risk for female engineers. This project focuses on female engineering students' elective track choices as potential “upstream” predictor of gendered career patterns and investigates the driving forces behind elective track choices and career path decisions for female engineering students. The findings will inform faculty development and other administrative efforts in order to achieve gender balance within technical elective tracks and, ultimately, technically-oriented careers. The proposed study is grounded in intra-occupational sex segregation and social cognitive career theories, and is a longitudinal, multi-method, multi-case study. We are systematically exploring elective track choices among aspiring engineers in three engineering majors—Bioengineering, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, with each major representing a single case with which we will conduct analysis within- and between-cases. We are using this methodology to systematically examine how and why elective track choices become gendered during undergraduate engineering education, and what the implications might be. In particular, we are collecting multi-year, and multi-level (institutional, educator, and student) archival, survey, and interview data relevant to educational tracks and track selection as well as career attitudes and decisions during undergraduate engineering education. We are examining how personal factors (e.g., interests and beliefs), relational factors (e.g., peer) and structural factors (e.g., advising, instruction and extra-curricular) impact elective track choices, and exploring whether and how these specialization track selections shape career-relevant outcomes.

Insights gained from this research will help inform theory and practice related to improving the diversity of students participating in the more technically-oriented roles and career paths within engineering. Moreover, shedding light on factors related to women’s elective track and career path decisions will allow us to suggest institutional changes to enhance gender equality in engineering education curricula in order to better prepare women to enter technical roles in the workforce.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering

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