ASEE Zone 2 Conference 2017

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Self Determination Theory to Develop Strategies for the Retention of Women in Engineering and Engineering Technology Programs

Final Paper
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Women are drastically underrepresented in engineering fields. Although efforts have been successful at recruiting women into engineering and engineering technology (ET) programs, retention remains an issue due to several factors such as stereotype threat and a lack of established women role models. This paper reports on a five year National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (S-STEM) funded project: Critical Mass of Engineering Technology Scholars (COMETS), and how the utilization of self- determination theory (SDT) fostered a supportive professional community to retain women undergraduates in ET programs at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). SDT posits that learning, motivation, and persistence are facilitated when the psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness, and competence are met. Interview and focus group findings show that although students continued to face amotivating factors from within their programs, they received, through their personal and professional communities, support for their psychological needs. This paper provides suggestions and evidence on how an SDT framework may guide programs and improve departmental cultures to support the retention of women in engineering.


Elizabeth Dell    
Manufacturing & Mechanical Engineering Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology
United States

Yen Verhoeven    
University of Rochester
United States


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