Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Walter Borman

Keywords

college, persistence, STEM, withdrawal, women

Abstract

Increasing women's participation in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can promote a healthy economy by ensuring a diverse and well-qualified STEM workforce, not only in the quantity of females in the workforce, but diversity in thinking and creativity. It will also send a positive message to young women about the breadth of educational opportunities and career choices they have available to them. However, women continue to participate in engineering education in a far lower rate than men. Attracting and retaining female students has become a challenging problem for the academic engineering community. In this study, a classic model of student withdrawal is presented as a theoretical framework for examining the relationships between the environment and the people in undergraduate engineering departments, and how they can influence students' commitment to and persistence in their program.

A sample of 1,369 engineering undergraduates enrolled in eight Florida universities participated in a survey assessing the climate of the engineering department, the socialization process, student commitment and withdrawal intentions. The results of a factor analysis reveal that faculty support, a sense of community, and encouraging and valuing diversity are all important elements of a climate for retention. In general, women perceived the academic climate as being less supportive than men did, reported lower levels of commitment, and greater withdrawal intentions. These climate factors, as well as socialization, also played a significant role in predicting the levels of student commitment to their program, and their intentions to withdraw or persist in their academic goals. However, there was little evidence for a moderating role of gender in these relationships. This research suggests the importance of having a supportive faculty and fostering a sense of community among students, both of which aid in the successful socialization of engineering students, and ultimately promote commitment and persistence.

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