Clarkson University Associate Professor of History Laura Ettinger has received a one-year grant of $217,387 from the National Science Foundation for her research on American women engineers.
The project, "Breaking Ground: American Women Engineers from the Baby Boom Generation," will investigate the careers and lives of a varied group of American women engineers who graduated from college in the 1970s.
The research will explain why women engineers have made the choices they have and how their choices have been constrained structurally and culturally. It will contribute to the collective understanding of how individual women might negotiate the constraints and how institutions might work to eliminate them.
By providing historical context, the project advances the understanding of why women are less likely than men to become engineers and the social and institutional biases that keep girls and women away from engineering.
Ettinger says the 1970s was a crucial decade for women in engineering and, yet, the stories of their careers and lives, including the important lessons they have learned about career persistence, have never been adequately studied.
"Encouraged in part by the women’s movement and changing social expectations, young women in the 1970s surged into higher education and, to a much lesser extent, into engineering," says Ettinger. "The beneficiaries of new affirmative action laws, these pioneering engineers, unlike their predecessors, were part of a small but growing cohort."
The project will use a survey, along with in-depth oral history interviews and follow-up questionnaires, with pioneering women engineers to answer three questions:
1) How did pioneering women engineers perceive themselves as navigating the gender stereotypes imposed upon them by society? That is, what individual and social mechanisms did pioneering women engineers use to negotiate work in a male-dominated field?
2) What advice do the pioneering women engineers have for girls and women today?
3) What can the pioneering women engineers' life experiences, and their perspectives on their life experiences, tell researchers about the structures that still need to be put in place or reinforced to encourage women to go into and persist in engineering careers?
Those answers will produce new knowledge and understanding to help individual girls and women learn strategies from the pioneering women engineers about how to navigate their careers and lives, and how to help educational institutions, particularly STEM and engineering educators at all levels, as well as government, industry, and engineering professional societies, to eliminate barriers for girls and women in engineering careers.
The results of this research will be published in engineering and science, technology, and society journals, and eventually a book. They also will contribute to achieving the goal of encouraging girls and women to become engineers and to persist in engineering careers.