Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Women’s participation in engineering remains one of the areas in American higher education in which gender inequality remains particularly pronounced. Much has been written about the chilly climate, unwelcoming occupational practices, and significant social barriers in engineering, which cause women to exit the field. Yet recent literature also suggests that woman’s minority status results not only from their attrition, but also from their relatively slow movement into engineering majors. In this sense, it is important that we begin to ask not only why women leave engineering, but also what reasons those women who actually pursue engineering as a college major, provide for doing so.

My dissertation attempts to address this gap in knowledge by asking how women form preferences and aspirations for engineering degrees. I rely on qualitative research methods, which consist of 35 in depth interviews with undergraduate engineering students, as well as a textual analysis of recruitment materials targeted towards young women to encourage them to become engineers. The key findings from this study demonstrate that an intersectional approach can help enhance our understandings of multiple identities such as gender, race, and social class and how they impact women’s choice of major and experiences in their pursuit of engineering. My findings also demonstrate that institutions can create frameworks for how students approach the choice of college major that can allow for alternative gendered processes to emerge. I also find that how women approach the choice and pursuit an engineering majors strongly relates to gendered understandings that operate in schools and families about the purpose of college and professional goals. In addition to shedding light on social interactions and structures that influence college major choice, this research also illuminates how postfeminist narratives operate at the organizational level among recruitment materials to create contradictory and problematic gendered narratives to encourage women to become engineers.



Committee Chair

Schafer, Mark



Available for download on Wednesday, August 07, 2024