Female Engineering Students' Experience with Stereotype Threat: A Narrative Inquiry

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Kurt Becker, Sherry Marx


Due to the social context of engineering classrooms, the dearth of females in engineering may be attributed to stereotype threat. The literature is replete with examples of the contributing role of stereotype threat to learning and performance decrements for stigmatized students in highly evaluative situations. Over 300 empirical studies exist illustrating the deleterious effects of stereotype threat on students' performance and persistence. However, acceptance of stereotype threat as more than a laboratory phenomenon necessitates an in-depth, authentic understanding of how stigmatized groups experience being socially devalued and negatively stereotyped. This proposed study utilizes narrative inquiry. Data from semi-structured interviews and journal reflections is triangulated to capture how female engineering students experience stereotype threat. What meaning this stigmatized group construct of the events which trigger stereotype threat, in addition to situations which protect them from it is analyzed thoroughly. Qualitative data discloses the distinctive social identity concerns facing female engineering students. The voices of these students offer reliable data that will lead to more impactful intervention strategies to offset the detrimental effects of stereotype threat. The proposed research lays the foundation for the creation of online modules for engineering courses facilitated by gender and culturally relevant role models and designed in environments with identity-safe physical cues. Given the current trend in online learning and the increased interest in Ðflipping the classroomÓ, such videos could potentially be implemented into engineering classrooms and serve as interventions to increase the retention and persistence of female students in engineering education.

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