Gender Equity

The Gender Equity program is a series of research and deployment projects aimed at increasing the number of women who enter and persist in engineering. Our approach is to remove inequities and barriers that have been shown to discourage underrepresented students and develop equitable learning environments that improve engineering education for both men and women. Gender Equity projects follow:

Gender Equity Digital Library at NEEDS has partnered with The Gender and Science Digital Library Project at the Educational Development Center (EDC), the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), the Institute of Women and Technology (IWT), the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and others, to work towards creating digital libraries to assist educators and students in promoting and implementing gender equitable engineering education in both formal and informal settings.

Spatial Reasoning: In order to remove gender differences in spatial reasoning skills for Freshman Engineering students, integrative multimedia courseware was designed to scaffold student learning and accommodate learning style differences. This was part of a larger program of the Synthesis Engineering Education Coalition aimed at improving the retention of under-represented engineers. The courseware and related exercises were designed to work effectively in a range of educational settings, including classroom, high-tech small study groups and self-paced individualized learning.

Middle School Pre-Engineering: A learning environment to support mechanical reasoning and understanding of simple machines was developed and an a rigorous evaluation of its effectiveness in student learning was performed. Based on recommendations from literature on instructional frameworks and cognitive aspects of mechanical reasoning, SIMALE (the Simple Machines Learning Environment) was designed to support reflection, collaboration, and presentation of concepts from multiple perspectives. SIMALE was implemented with a diverse population of middle and high school students with three treatment variations: (1) environment with focus on Lego exercises to engage in hands-on physical activities, (2) environment with focus on a web-based computer module, and (3) environment with both the computer module and Lego exercises. Analyses of results show significant increases in post-test performance for all treatment variations within SIMALE. The results also revealed unexpected dramatic results in equalizing post-test scores, in spite of large population differences in pre-test scores, along ethnic and gender dimensions.

Interactive Theater: Theater that combines live performance and audience participation has been successfully designed and implemented to improve the educational and professional climate in academe and industry. Our adaptation of this concept at UC Berkeley was designed to improve the climate for diversity and difference; counteract recent degradations of campus climate due to anti-affirmative action legislation in the State of California; improve the quality of teaching; and build a more tolerant community among a diverse student body, staff and faculty. We identified ways the program increased awareness and empathy, promoted positive new behaviors, and provided significant data, suggestions and support for change.

Designing Technology for Girls and Women: A study to examine students’ perceptions of the design process was conducted in the freshman/sophomore class ME39D: Designing Technology for Girls and Women at the University of California at Berkeley. The course covered gender issues associated with new product development from a human-centered design perspective. Students worked in multidisciplinary design teams and participated in interactive workshops with target users and industry sponsors. The class was one of the Virtual Development Centers sponsored by the Institute of Women and Tecnology ( and supporting companies in the San Francisco Bay area. Three forms of data collection techniques were used: interviews, questionnaires and a design process assignment. Evaluation showed that students developed a strong belief that ‘good design’ dictates that technology can and should serve all members of the potential user population, including those traditionally underrepresented with technology. Finally, students showed an increased level of confidence in technology and an increased comfort level working on design projects.

This project has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Engineering Information Foundation, and the Anita Borg Institute of Women and Technology.

Publications and Presentations

Perceptions of the Design Process: An Examination of Gendered Aspects of New Product Development

Agogino, A.M. and M.C. Linn, “Retaining Female Engineering Students; Will Early Design Experiences Help?,” Viewpoint Editorial, NSF Directions, National Science Foundation, Vol. 5, No. 2, May-June
1992, pp. 8-9.

Agogino, A.M. and S. Hsi,” Learning Style Based Innovations to Improve Retention of Female Engineering Students in the Synthesis Coalition,” Engineering Education for the 21st Century: Proceedings
of Frontiers in Education, FIE’95, ASEE/IEEE, pp. 4a2.1-4a2.4. view

Agogino, Alice, Edith Ng, and Carla Trujillo “Theater Class Helps Transform the Climate for Diversity in Engineering,” Proceedings of ASEE’01 (Session 2592), June 2001. view

Agogino, Alice, Edith Ng, and Carla Trujillo, “Using Interactive Theater to Enhance Classroom Climate,” Proceedings of WEPAN/NAMEPA ’01 (April 21 – 24, 2001, Alexandria, Virginia 2001), pp. 67-71. view

Agogino, Alice M. and Carla Trujillo, “Final Report for Grant # EIF98.5 of the Engineering Information Foundation”, November 5, 2001. view

Hsi, S., M. C. Linn and J. E. Bell, “The Role of Spatial Reasoning in Engineering and the Design of Spatial Instruction,” Journal of Engineering Education, April 1997, pp. 151-158.

Knudsen, Thomas. The BlockStacking courseware program was designed to help asses a student’s abilities to visualize objects in three dimensions and to help improve spatial reasoning abilities. The courseware can be found on NEEDS (National Engineering Education Delivery System).

McKenna, Ann and Alice M. Agogino, “Engineering for Middle School: A Web-based Module for Learning and Designing with Simple Machines,” CD ROM ISBN 0-7803-4089-2, IEEE/ASEE FIE’97 (Frontiers in Engineering Education) Conference. Won Best Paper Award; thirteen papers out of 400 submitted were selected for this award. Also published as in the Journal of Engineering Education, Oct. 1998, pp. 437-444

McKenna and Alice M. Agogino, “Designing and Assessing a Learning Environment to Support Mechanical Reasoning”, Proceedings of ASEE 2002, Session 2138. view

McKenna, Ann, Promoting Mechanical Reasoning with Simple Machines Learning Environment, Fall 2001. (SESAME graduate group) “doctoral dissertation, University of California at Berkeley, Fall 2002.

McKenna and Alice M. Agogino, “Supporting Mechanical Reasoning with a Representationally-Rich Learning Environment”, accepted for publication in the Journal of Engineering Education, ASEE 2003.

Newman, C., M. Bauer, A.M. Agogino and J. Mankoff, “Perceptions of the Design Process: An Examination of Gendered Aspects of New Product Development”, Designing Engineering Education (Proceedings of the Mudd Design Workshop IV) 2003. To be published in the International Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 20, No.2, 2004.

Osborn, J.R. and A.M. Agogino, “An Interface for Interactive Spatial Reasoning and Visualization,” in Proceedings of CHI’92 (Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, (Monterey, California May 3-7, 1992), ACM, New York, 1992. pp. 75-82.