CSULB, CSUF receive grant to study women's interest in engineering

LONG BEACH - California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) have received a three-year, $525,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a collaborative research project that will focus on increasing women's interest and retention in computer science and engineering fields and careers.Awarded through the NSF's Research on Gender in Science and Engineering directorate, the study will look at the impact of the interdisciplinary, collaborative research model on the academic and career trajectories of undergraduate computer science and engineering (CSE) students at six pre-selected case study institutions located on the West Coast. The research is qualitative in nature and involves extensive observations and interviews with the same individuals at each of the six case study campuses over a three-year period. Co-principal investigators for the project are Laura Portnoi, CSULB associate professor of advanced studies in education and counseling, and Karen Kim, co-director of the Center for Research on Educational Access and Leadership and a lecturer in educational leadership at CSUF. "It has been improving and it has been improving for women for sure," said Portnoi about individuals studying and working in science-related fields. "However, the area we are focusing on, computer science in particular, has developed the least in regard to the gender imbalance. Previous research that shows that context matters a great deal...culture at institutions and universities, along with the workplace, are not conducive to retaining women in many STEM (science, technology, engineering. and mathematics) fields." The central objective of the study is to investigate how experiences in CSE departments shape undergraduate women's educational and vocational trajectories. The study incorporates a multi-phased approach in which the cases and research subjects are studied in-depth over three years. The first year of the study will involve in-person observations and interviews with students, faculty and academic leaders; the second year will include site visits and follow-up interviews with the students as they continue in their undergraduate careers; and the third year will consist of student interviews and observations as they prepare to graduate. "This is a collaborative grant so the funding is split between the two institutions, which means it's one research project and we are carrying it out together as opposed to having two parallel projects," explained Portnoi. "One of the key aspects of the grant is hiring graduate and undergraduate students to work with us. It was really clear to both of us that developing CSULB and CSUF students as researchers would be central, so we have included funding for students as a component of the research." The study, which began in early October, involves 90 students, divided equally among the six schools, with the actual research portion of the project commencing in spring 2012.

********** Published: December 15, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 35