Next Generation Engineers? Examining the Pathways of Adolescent Females in SWENext

Understanding the Development of an Engineering Identity

This project is a research collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin and the Society for Women Engineers and funded by grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF Award #1825328) this project is a research collaboration between the University of Texas and the Society for Women Engineers that follows a purposive sample of high school girls participating in SWENext, an organization dedicated to identifying and supporting young women interested in engineering. This study will employ a mixed-methods approach; the quantitative component will follow a sample of approximately 700-900 girls over a period of three years (as they transition from high school into college) via online surveys, while a qualitative component will similarly follow a longitudinal sample of 30 girls over time with in-depth interviews.

This project will address several aims that will extend the research on inequality in engineering and STEM fields in important ways. First, the study will examine the gender identity of SWENext members, to shed light on how these young women view their own gender and make sense of prevailing gender norms and roles. Second, it will examine whether and how peers and adults provide support and encouragement for SWENext members’ interest in engineering, recognizing the array of peers (e.g. friends, classmates, extra-curricular participants, and online peers) and adults (e.g. parents and teachers) that girls interact with, and considering the potential for conflicting messages, as some are likely supportive of girls’ non-normative interests at the same time that others negatively sanction such interests. Further, the research team will examine whether support is more available or impactful when it comes from same-gender sources. The final aim of the study is to examine how these factors help shape girls’ decision to declare an engineering major in college, as well as their engineering-related self-efficacy and identity. In addressing these three broad aims, the research team employs an intersectional lens to examine how girls’ views, experiences, and outcomes differ by racial/ethnic background.

  • Take a look at some preliminary research findings that SWE published in the 2022 State of Women in Engineering Magazine, How Do Young Women Develop an Engineering Identity?
  • Read the paper presented at the ASEE 2022 Conference, Examining the Association between Peer Support and Young Women’s Engineering Identity and Major Intentions.
  • Check out the article written for Science Education in 2022. The article discusses the findings from a study that explores the people within the daily lives of SWENext members to understand from whom and how girls are supported in pursuing engineering, a gender-atypical field, and simultaneously, from whom and how they are discouraged.
  • The journal article in Sociological Perspectives utilizes interviews with 33 racially diverse high school girls who have expressed interest in engineering careers. Using the framework of critical consciousness and informed by intersectional theories, the authors examine their views about gender inequality in engineering. The researchers find clear evidence that young women’s racialized identities have implications not only for their understandings of gender inequality, but also for their motivation to disrupt it.