PROMOTING GENDER EQUITY IN ENGINEERING: AN EXPLORATION OF FEMALE PRE- & POST SECONDARY PARTICIPANT PERCEPTIONS AND EXPERIENCES IN QSEA
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The underrepresentation of women in certain disciplines in post-secondary engineering education and in the workforce, has been a prevailing issue. Researchers have analyzed this phenomenon over the years and various initiatives that encourage women to pursue and persist in engineering, however, the positive impact of outreach programs on women’s perceptions of engineering is not fully understood. The purpose of this research is to explore the experiences of former female high school and university participants in Queen’s Summer Engineering Academy (QSEA) in order to determine how to promote equitable participation of males and females in engineering programs. This research is guided by Gender Schema Theory which is used as a lens for understanding how young women perceive an educational path in engineering. Through stratified sampling, 27 former female participants of QSEA were recruited and ranged from ages fourteen to twenty. Participants completed a three-part questionnaire designed to explore their experiences in the program and gain insights about their perceptions of professional women in engineering. For data analysis, descriptive statistics and an inductive analysis was completed. According to the results, three themes emerged from the study: 1) QSEA provides impetus to interested females to pursue an engineering degree; 2) participants developed a positive perception of the roles of females in engineering; 3) participants suggested desired resources to understand the female engineering experience. Sub-themes reveal that: (a) participants were interested in engineering prior to participating in QSEA, (b) QSEA informed student knowledge of engineering and motivated participants to pursue engineering, (c) participants learned of possibilities for success in an alternative field (d) there is a need for increased female representation in QSEA instructors and participants, and (e) more opportunities and resources are required to explore the topic of experiences of women in engineering. According to the findings of this research and limitations of the study, future recommendations are made for future work in this area.