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Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
SJR: 0.468 SNIP: 0.671 CiteScore™: 1.65

ISSN Print: 1072-8325
ISSN Online: 1940-431X

Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering

DOI: 10.1615/JWomenMinorScienEng.2016013949
pages 139-158

RESISTING CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS: WOMEN REMAINING AS CIVIL AND ENVIRONMENT ENGINEERING MAJORS

Maureen D. Neumann
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Sandra A. Lathem
University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Maureen Fitzgerald-Riker
Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY

ABSTRACT

Retaining women in STEM-related fields has been a priority for many reform efforts. Despite an increase in initiatives that encourage women to enter STEM-related fields, some women continue to feel marginalized or believe that the environment is outright hostile to them. Taken together, these trends indicate a set of cultural expectations that are detrimental to the retention of women in STEM-related fields. The purpose of this study was to understand how some females resist cultural expectations and remain in engineering and to examine how undergraduate women negotiate cultural expectations while pursuing engineering degrees. Using case study research methods, the study investigated the experiences, attitudes and strategies of 21 undergraduate women, from different graduating classes, who remained and succeeded in an undergraduate civil and/or environmental engineering program. The results indicated that these aspiring women engineers were situated in a supportive academic program and were able to thrive and succeed, yet challenges and barriers outside the academic setting continue to persist. A sense of belonging to a group, strong role models, and self-confidence enabled these women to persist in their civil and environmental engineering programs. These women also struggled with gender identity and stereotype threat as they continued through engineering programs. The words of these women help explicate and illuminate the ways in which women negotiate cultural expectations by remaining in the civil and/or environmental programs. In describing these women's experiences, this study further adds to the quantitative research studies completed in the past decade.


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