In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rochester Insti­tute of Tech­nology, Vir­ginia Poly­technic Insti­tute & State Uni­ver­sity and the Uni­ver­sity of Wyoming

BOSTON – October 16, 2008 – North­eastern University’s Col­lege of Engi­neering is the co-​​recipient of a $499,990 three-​​year National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) grant to study how coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion and related on-​​the-​​job expe­ri­ences affect female under­grad­uate engi­neering stu­dents. Working with col­leagues at the Rochester Insti­tute of Tech­nology (RIT), Vir­ginia Poly­technic Insti­tute & State Uni­ver­sity (VT) and the Uni­ver­sity of Wyoming (UW), the research team will inves­ti­gate the hypoth­esis that women in formal engi­neering pro­grams who par­tic­i­pate in work related to their field of study during their under­grad­uate studies have higher self-​​efficacy and are more likely to grad­uate with a degree in their chosen field.

Rachelle Reis­berg, Director of Women in Engi­neering at North­eastern, is Prin­cipal Inves­ti­gator and Joseph Raelin, the Asa S. Knowles Chair at Northeastern’s Col­lege of Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, is Co-​​Principal Inves­ti­gator. Sara Wadia-​​Fascetti, Asso­ciate Vice Provost and a member of Northeastern’s Col­lege of Engi­neering fac­ulty, is also a member of the project team.

The study, Path­ways to Work Self-​​Efficacy and Reten­tion of Women in Under­grad­uate Engi­neering, is one of the first to inves­ti­gate how co-​​op oppor­tu­ni­ties and other formal work expe­ri­ence pro­grams impact the reten­tion rate of female under­grad­uate engi­neering stu­dents. In addi­tion, the study will examine pro­grams, such as men­toring, advising and aca­d­emic living com­mu­ni­ties, to see how they con­tribute to self-​​efficacy and retention.

There is a great need to iden­tify the fac­tors that con­tribute to retaining female engi­neering stu­dents through grad­u­a­tion, and the Path­ways study will empir­i­cally examine the links among pre-​​existing demo­graphic con­di­tions, sup­ports – such as men­tor­ships – and three forms of self-​​efficacy – work, career, and aca­d­emic – on reten­tion,” said Pro­fessor Raelin, the Knowles Chair of Practice-​​Oriented Edu­ca­tion at Northeastern.

Cur­rently, women are under­rep­re­sented in engi­neering. They make up only 18.6% of engi­neering bach­elor degree recip­i­ents and, in 2006, held only 11% of engi­neering positions.

Sev­eral studies have shown that female under­grad­u­ates studying engi­neering lose their sense of self-​​efficacy during the course of the pro­gram,” said Reis­berg. “It is impor­tant to iden­tify what fac­tors, both aca­d­emic and social, will help keep these women focused and con­fi­dent in their abil­i­ties and even­tu­ally lead them to a suc­cessful career as an engineer.”

Over 95% of engi­neering stu­dents at North­eastern and all stu­dents at RIT par­tic­i­pate in coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion. Both UW and VT do not require it and thus serve as com­par­ison schools for sta­tis­tical purposes.

The study results will pro­vide impor­tant data that will point to ways in which engi­neering schools might improve female reten­tion rates. Self-​​efficacy as a deter­mining factor of aca­d­emic suc­cess will be thor­oughly exam­ined, resulting in an in-​​depth analysis of how this vari­able affects whether a female stu­dent con­tinues as an engi­neering stu­dent, explores another degree option at the insti­tu­tion, or drops out.

This research study will pro­vide clear data regarding the effec­tive­ness of pro­grams offered in acad­emia to pro­mote the advance­ment of women in the field of engi­neering, who have the capacity to truly suc­ceed as engi­neers,” said Wadia-​​Fascetti.

Reis­berg added, “Our project ben­e­fits from a col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship forged by the uni­ver­si­ties under­taking this unique study, and we look for­ward to sharing the results with the larger aca­d­emic community.”

For more infor­ma­tion about this project, please con­tact Jenny Eriksen at (617) 373‑2802 or via email at j.​eriksen@​neu.​edu.

About North­eastern University

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world. The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divi­sions. For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.