Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Dr. Geoff Potvin, Supervising Advisor

Committee Member

Dr. Zahra Hazari

Committee Member

Dr. Leidy Klotz

Committee Member

Dr. Lisa Benson

Committee Member

Dr. Douglas Hirt


One path to increasing the diversity of the engineering workforce is to understand the affective self-beliefs of women who choose engineering and how those beliefs change over time. By understanding these self-beliefs, educators can help to empower women to identify with engineering and see its potential to make change in their world. Rigorous research in this area is needed and could have significant positive impact on the engineering workforce. This research builds on critical agency theory by validating and refining the frame-work of Critical Engineering Agency (CEA), though which students’ interest in engineering is enhanced when they see opportunities to make change in their world. This framework has been developed by drawing from prior qualitative research and through a quantitative national study. Structural equation modeling was used to understand the connections be-tween the constructs of CEA. Additional work was conducted to understand other factors that influence students’ choice of engineering. A pair of qualitative follow-up studies to this work were conducted to understand the reasons why students develop CEA and choose engineering as a career. The qualitative phase added explanatory context and interpretive power to previously identified relationships through open-ended surveys and a longitudinal case study. The results highlight the salience of the CEA framework, indicating that recog-nition beliefs are the most important piece of identity development and holding agency beliefs about the positive impact that engineering and science can have on the world is more important for women than men in affecting their engineering choice. Qualitative results illustrated how identity and agency beliefs form and how the connection between Communities of Practice and identity through agential bridging occurs. The results from an in-depth case study demonstrated how CEA is developed through constructed hybrid spaces and practically plays a role in engineering decisions and identity formation within an engineering Community of Practice. Students’ identities and agency beliefs provide insight into why students choose and persist in areas related to engineering, how professors might develop students’ internalization of recognition in the classroom, and how this CEA framework might provide a lens for future research. Providing high school and college faculty, admissions and recruitment staff, and college administrators with research-based strategies to increase female students’ personal engagement with engineering is an important step towards diversifying engineering.



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