Cultivating gender diversity in the engineering workforce

engineering workforce gender gap

Published February 2, 2017

The Institute for Research and Education on Women and Gender at UB has awarded funding to a team from UB’s Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies Community of Excellence (SMART CoE). 

The team consists of faculty from the Graduate School of Education’s (GSE) Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction (CLaRI) and staff from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.  Expanding on their current work, Designing Vital Engineering and Literacy Oriented Practices in STEM for Elementary Teachers and Children (DeVELOP STEM ETC.), the team is investigating factors that impact engineering literacy in elementary school age children.  The foundational work for this follow-on research has received diverse support, initially being funded by a GSE MEGAS grant, then a UB IMPACT Grant and later with support from both a NSF Research Experiences for Teachers grant as well as an external Elva Knight Research Grant.

The funding will allow PI Mary McVee, and Co-PIs Lynn Shanahan, & Ken English to identify factors that influence a girl’s interest and opportunity to learn about engineering and engineering careers while providing engineering design process learning. The work is significant because even though there is significant growth projected in STEM careers, only 14% of engineers are female.  As a result, it is essential to provide increased opportunity for girls to explore STEM subjects including engineering and better understand how these opportunities can influence outcomes.

“Research tells us that a child’s aspirations to pursue science or engineering careers may be fixed before the age of 10 and most often before reaching age 14”, says  Mary McVee, Director of the Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction

and the study’s principal investigator. “Thus waiting to intervene to encourage young women to enter STEM careers when they are adolescents or of college age is likely too late”.

“This study is a great example of a multidisciplinary problem solving approach that addresses the need to create a more gender diverse engineering workforce of the future”, says Kemper Lewis, Director of the SMART CoE.  “Had these researchers not learned from one another and exchanged ideas within the community, this research would not have been possible”.

To learn more about CLaRI, please visit their website HERE.  Additional information on the SMART CoE is available HERE.