Abstract: Context: Engineering outreach programs are common activities run by universities that aim to educate and enthuse prospective students about engineering. Despite outreach efforts, women remain vastly underrepresented in electrical engineering. It is possible that changes to traditional outreach programs to specifically target female incentives and misconceptions could increase female interest and enrolment in electrical engineering, and this will be investigated based on findings in relevant literature regarding the factors that have been found to influence female participation in engineering.
Purpose: The purpose of this research is to assess the effectiveness of targeted enhancements to an existing year 8 engineering outreach program, with the aim of increasing female interest in electrical engineering.
Approach: High school students attending the outreach program were separated into six groups of 50 students. Groups received slightly different variants of a starting presentation, based on factors considered to be significant in the literature. Qualitative surveys before and after the program indicated the impact of the program for increasing enthusiasm and eagerness for electrical engineering, and provided insights into the differences between females and males in terms of what may attract or deter them from electrical engineering.
Results: Female participants indicated they were considerably more likely to pursue streams of chemical and environmental engineering than males. Both females and males were most strongly attracted to the hands on work in electrical engineering. Females indicated the next two most appealing aspects of electrical engineering were the challenge and teamwork. Females initially had less understanding of electrical engineering than males, and significantly less interest in pursuing electrical engineering, but the workshop significantly increased female interest in electrical engineering. The presentation emphasising socio-economic benefits of electrical engineering was most well received by all females, followed by the presentation providing insight into studying electrical engineering at university.
Conclusions: The findings supported prior research that females seem to have less awareness of what engineering is than males, but the outreach program effectively helped to narrow the gap between females and males, increasing female understanding and as a result increase female interest and likelihood to pursue engineering. The findings also reinforce that females seem more attracted to degrees and career paths where the social and environmental benefits are most evident. Outreach programs should attempt to emphasise the role of engineers in terms of the positive impacts to society and the environment engineers have in the modern world. Hands on work was the most enjoyable aspect of electrical engineering for both females and males in this context. The aspects of teamwork and challenging but achievable work appealed strongly particularly to female participants, who also responded positively to presentations about studying at university and examples of collaborative projects and social events. Whereas males were more attracted to the technical side and responded positively to presentations about the diverse options as an engineer and industry insights.
To cite this article: Duffield, Tali and Li, Jonathan C. Laws of attraction: Increasing female interest in engineering [online]. In: 27th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education : AAEE 2016. Lismore, NSW: Southern Cross University, 2016: 233-242.
[cited 29 Apr 17].