Student perceptions and interest in engineering: Effects of gender, race/ethnicity, and grade level

Susannah Sandrin, Connie M. Borror

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

4 Scopus citations


It is widely known that fewer women enroll in engineering degree programs and work in engineering fields than men. In order to address this issue, a two-pronged approach is needed to simultaneously attract and retain more young women to, and in, these disciplines. In this study, student perception of STEM disciplines was assessed to determine where gaps in perception are the greatest by gender. The confounding effects of student race/ethnicity and grade level on differences in student perception by gender were also examined. More than 6,000 middle and high school students (grades 5-12) and more than 1,200 first-year college students were surveyed to determine student interest and perceptions about their abilities in 26 different STEM sub-disciplines, including 7 engineering sub-disciplines. Male middle and high school students reported a slightly higher level of confidence about their ability to succeed in a STEM major, with a widening gap in the first-year college student population. Male students in both populations were at least twice as likely to respond that they were "very interested" in engineering majors, excluding environmental engineering. Environmental engineering still had a larger reported male interest, but it was not as exaggerated. The difference between male and female student responses was present at all grade levels (5th grade through first-year college), although some fields did exhibit a narrowing of the gap during the upper middle school years (such as environmental science, computer engineering and civil engineering). The computing fields, physics and space science were the only other STEM fields that exhibited gender gaps that approached those observed for the engineering fields. Female students, in both populations, were also much more likely than male students to respond "I don't know what it is" to questions asking about their interest in different engineering sub-disciplines. These gender gaps were not constant, however, when race/ethnicity was factored in. Larger gender differences (with male students indicating more interest) were noted for Caucasian and Native American students as compared to Hispanic, African American and Southeast Asian students. Indeed, female African American students expressed a higher interest in Chemical Engineering than male African American students. Therefore, different strategies may need to be used to attract students as a function of student gender, grade and race/ethnicity. Additionally, interventions to attract young women and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups to engineering need to start early and continue throughout the K-12 years, in order to be truly effective. Further implications of this study, as well as in-depth analysis of the results for each engineering sub-discipline, will also be addressed in the paper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - 2013
Event120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Atlanta, GA, United States
Duration: Jun 23 2013Jun 26 2013


Other120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAtlanta, GA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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