Understanding How Social Agents and Communicative Messages Influence Female Students' Engineering Career Interest from High School to First Semester of College (Fundamental)

Yue Liu, Dina Verdín, Gerhard Sonnert

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

Abstract

Many researchers have investigated how to increase female and minority students' engineering career interest, but they are still severely underrepresented in the field of engineering. Prior literature demonstrated that various factors contribute to students' engineering career interests, such as self-efficacy and social support. Previous research also explained that students' early engineering interest was the most influential predictor of their engineering major and career choice. Therefore, it is necessary to examine students' engineering career interest trajectories prior to college to better understand how students develop or hinder their interest in an engineering career. This study answers the following research question: “Which social agents and what communicative messages influence female students' intentions to choose engineering as a career at the beginning of high school, end of high school, and the first semester of college?” We used a cross-sectional dataset collected from students enrolled in first-semester English courses at 23 four-year institutions and 4 two-year institutions across the United States. The survey was a retrospective examination of students' (both engineering majors and non-engineering majors) career interests, attitudes, and beliefs about engineering and broadly STEM. Students indicated career interests at different stages in their lives (e.g., during middle school, beginning of high school, end of high school, and beginning of college). Logistic regression was used to understand the social support factors promoting engineering career interests during the four retrospective time points. Our findings demonstrated that at the beginning of high school, Latinas were more likely to choose engineering as a career. However, by the end of high school, Asian girls had higher odds of choosing engineering as a career, whereas multiracial girls had a decreased likelihood. These changes revealed the impact of race/ethnicity on girls' engineering career interest at different time points during high school. Our findings also indicated that different social agents, such as fathers, high school teachers, and siblings, had various impacts on girls' engineering career interest at different stages of high school. At the beginning of high school, female students who chose engineering as a career were more likely to be encouraged by their fathers and teachers, however, at the end of high school, female students were more likely to be encouraged by their fathers and siblings. This study helps disentangle the influence social agents have on female high schoolers' interest in engineering careers. Furthermore, a deeper understanding of how factors influence the chances of female students' engineering career interest during high school and first semester of college will help the engineering education research community develop more effective strategies in improving female and minority student participation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Externally publishedYes
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)

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