Leadership and Service Learning Improves Confidence of Engineering Skills in Women

Jennifer Wang, Eli Patten, Ryan Shelby, Farzana Ansari, Lisa Pruitt
ASEE (2012)


As part of an undergraduate first-year engineering course, a five-week module on leadership was offered in addition to two other modules focused on more traditional engineering topics, bioengineering and mechanical engineering. Students were able to choose two out of the three modules as part of their requirement for the course. The leadership module presented mechanisms for developing professional skills and also provided hands-on application of these skills through K-12 service learning at a local science museum. Because women tend to be drawn to engineering sectors that give back to society, we hypothesized that the confidence levels of women would reflect the benefit of the leadership module. To assess the impact of the module, we developed a survey based on the eleven ABET criteria and the National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE) ten criteria. We also asked open-ended questions for student feedback on the course. The survey was administered to all students at the beginning (pre-course) and end (post-course) of the semester. Results from our pre- and post- course surveys reveal that women in our leadership module increased their confidence in all of the amalgamated NAE-ABET engineering skills while women who did not participate in our module showed no significant increased confidence in these skills. Furthermore, we found women’s confidence in the leadership module to have improved considerably compared to men in all modules. Finally, qualitative responses from women indicate overwhelming appreciation for the experience and skills gained from the leadership module, as well as an increase in confidence for women as engineers.