Date of Award

Fall 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

First Advisor

Teri Reed

Second Advisor

Patrice Buzzanell

Committee Chair

Teri Reed

Committee Co-Chair

Patrice Buzzanell

Committee Member 1

Audeen Fentiman

Committee Member 2

Leah Jamieson


As of 2012, women are approximately 19% of all engineering undergraduate students nationally (American Society for Engineering Education, 2012). Women's representation in engineering has not changed significantly over the last 20 years, despite increased attention, increased funding, and increased programmatic activities intended to encourage more women to become engineers. Research around the world continues to seek identification of the reasons for the underrepresentation of women in engineering. This prior work has focused primarily on two broad areas: recruiting, that is, preparation, socialization, exposure, and experiences prior to college; and retention, that is, experiences in higher education. Retention studies and programmatic responses to those studies mostly have been confined to the collegiate first year, a time of historically high attrition. Little attention has been paid to the university admissions process, one of the gateways to engineering studies. Little attention also has been paid to the experiences of college sophomores, whose attrition rates approach those of first-year college students.

The first section of this dissertation presents a statistical analysis that indicated a bias in favor of men in the admission process. Success factor modeling suggested a different set of admission criteria could mitigate this bias. After recommendations to change admission criteria were implemented, the percent of female enrollment in engineering increased and statistical analysis confirmed that bias was substantially neutralized.

The second section of this dissertation presents three frameworks for understanding how sophomores may be defined. The processes of conceptualizing and operationalizing what it means to be a sophomore impact the types of issues that can be investigated about student attrition, the findings that result from those investigations, and the ability to make cross institutional or programmatic comparisons using a clearly stated definition. Three definitions for classifying a sophomore--cohort, credits, and curriculum--are presented. The implications of each are discussed relative to the overall population but also specifically to women. All three retention methodologies were based on continued enrollment, with results disaggregated by gender. When analyzing retention data, the definition of a sophomore is an important choice as different definitions may or seem to provide different results. The cohort framework, for example, showed a higher percentage of students retained to their second year than to their third year. In contrast, a credit framework showed a higher percentage of students moving to a junior classification than to a sophomore classification. Because the literature review indicates that very little work has been done specifically on the sophomore engineer and most discussions about the sophomore year do not clearly state which sophomore framework is being applied to the research, this portion of the dissertation is a much needed step in clarifying the underlying bases whereby claims about retention are made.

The third section of this dissertation is a study of sophomores' experiences in the engineering disciplines using the cohort definition of a sophomore. The cohort definition is used in this section to focus on the socio-cultural aspects of the second year in college. With a historical emphasis on and increasing positive results of increasing first-year retention, attention is now turning to the sophomore year. Understanding sophomore students' experiences in engineering may assist in developing strategies to reduce attrition and may assist in managing the culture in such a way that makes it more attractive to women and others who are underrepresented. The Sophomore Experiences Survey (Schreiner, 2010) was administered at one institution to the sophomore engineering cohort. Statistical comparisons of results between engineers and sophomores nationally showed more areas of similarity than differences, although the differences indicated that engineering sophomores were less engaged in their learning and less engaged with faculty and advisors. Sophomore engineering women were much more likely than men to be involved in engineering peer mentoring or leadership programs. Multiple regression analysis indicated that the most significant predictor of student satisfaction was satisfaction with peers on campus. The most significant predictor of intention to persist and intention to graduate was surety of major choice. However, there were differences in the most significant predictors when looking at men and women separately. Predictors of success outcomes for engineering sophomores point to the interconnectedness of experiences with faculty, advisors, and peers with individual student traits, characteristics, and preferences, with individual aspects acting as mediating and moderating factors.

The overarching results of this research project offer frameworks through which change in the engineering education process can lead to greater participation by women in the engineering field, and increased retention rates for all engineering students.