Study to examine how female engineering faculty persist despite barriers

Ebony McGee (Vanderbilt)

Understanding the ways in which women persist in the face of barriers in engineering will be the focus of a collaborative study by education researchers at Vanderbilt and Purdue universities.

The three-year study, “Why We Persist: An Intersectional Study to Characterize and Examine the Experiences of Women Tenure-Track Faculty in Engineering,” is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Leading the study is Ebony McGee, assistant professor of diversity of urban schooling at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development; joined by Associate Professor Monica Cox and Assistant Professor Joyce Main, both with the Purdue School of Engineering Education.

Cox earned a Ph.D. in leadership and policy studies from Peabody. While she was at Vanderbilt, Cox was a member of the assessment and evaluation thrust of VaNTH, the Vanderbilt–Northwestern–Texas–Harvard/MIT Engineering Research Center set up in 1999 to improve bioengineering education. Vanderbilt was the lead institution in this National Science Foundation ERC.

The three-phase study examines how and why women persist in faculty engineering positions despite barriers to success in the context of race, class and gender. It is estimated that about 14 percent of tenure-track faculty members in engineering are female. Researchers will collect the stories and experiences of women faculty in engineering in order to examine their positive and negative experiences, what motivates the women, how they navigate academia and how they define and achieve success.

“This study will allow us to further delineate how racism and classism manifest within academia and how women persist in the face of these structural barriers,” McGee said. “Furthermore, we will be able to better identify institutions that are sensitive and proactive to challenges associated with race, class and gender versus institutions that are limited in their understandings of these constructs.”

McGee, Cox and their colleagues will gather statistics from tenure-track female faculty members at about 350 accredited engineering institutions through an American Society for Engineering Education database. They also will implement a national survey exploring issues of race, class and gender among women faculty in engineering.

The study’s findings will be made available to administrators and policymakers as a tool for shaping national education and institutional policies.

Learn more about “Why We Persist: An Intersectional Study to Characterize and Examine the Experiences of Women Tenure-Track Faculty in Engineering.”

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Joan Brasher, (615) 322-NEWS