Feminism in Engineering Education Researcher

On Tuesday, November 3rd, Dr. Alice Pawley spoke at the Purdue American Association of University Women (AAUW) meeting on her research. Dr. Pawley has a Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering, and a Master’s/PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Wisconsin. Her education background led her to become an Associate Professor in the school of Engineering Education at Purdue. She is also an affiliate member in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the director of the Feminist Research in Engineering Education.

Dr. Pawley’s research is based on finding evidence proving feminism exists in engineering and STEM disciplines. She is working towards analyzing her findings to discover a potential solution to her posed problem. Dr. Pawley touched a few controversial topics that she believes are important to learn more about and to educate others on.

Dr. Pawley explained how throughout history, the way engineering is taught and what engineering is defined as, has mainly been led by white men. This doesn’t mean women and other minorities did not contribute to engineering and technology history as well, however. For some reason, the contributions and discoveries made by women and minorities in STEM fields has not be recognized, documented, and is still predominantly not taught in engineering education today. For example, the Brooklyn Bridge was overseen by a woman in engineering, Emily Rowling, although most of us have never been informed of this. This was a time when women and minorities were not allowed to patent new technology. Dr. Pawley’s goal is to discover why these stories are not taught in modern education. She also believes there are some policies that exist in engineering education today. For example at many universities, engineering classes require group work outside of class, which would make it difficult for women with children to be successful in this setting. Even in the workforce, there is a stigma that it is challenging when a woman takes off for maternity leave because of the time they are gone and how it can affect the company or their position. Dr. Pawley believes there should be action taken for these factors. This is her driving reason to conduct her research to help improve engineering education.

I thought listening to what Dr. Pawley had to say was very interesting and gave me a new perspective on the presence of feminism in engineering education. Balancing work, research, and a two year old, Dr. Pawley is working hard to finish her studies in the next year or so. I admire her courage and drive to work on controversial research for something she strongly believes in:

“I fail regularly but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. I believe this important.”

Dr. Pawley’s website is at feministengineering.org. Some of her journals and papers are published online for those of you who would like to find out more information about her research!

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