The Impact of Program Experiences on the Retention of Women Engineering Students in Mexico
Villa, Maria G.
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This qualitative study sought to describe and understand the experiences of female students attending engineering colleges in Mexico and the sources of support and strategies that helped them persist in their programs. The participants were 20 women engineering students enrolled in at least their third year in selected colleges of engineering in Mexico, in both public and private universities, and pursuing a variety of engineering majors. Findings focus on the experiences of female students that helped them stay in their programs. Participants described their experiences in college as very challenging and perceived the environment as hostile and uncertain. In addition, patriarchal Mexican cultural values and stereotypes were identified by students as influencing and helping shape the engineering environment. However, in this context, participants were able to find sources of support and use strategies that helped them remain in their majors, such as a strong desire to succeed, a perceived academic self-ability; and support from their families, peers, institutions, and?most importantly?their professors. Furthermore, the fact that participants were able to persist in their programs gave them a sense of pride and satisfaction that was shared by their families, peers, and faculty. In addition, participants experienced contradictory forces and were constantly negotiating between rejecting traditional gender norms and upholding the norms that are so deeply engrained in Mexican society. Finally, as the students advanced in their programs and became ?accepted to the club,? they tended to reproduce the maledominated value system present in engineering colleges accepting their professors? expectations of being ?top students,? accepting the elitist culture of engineering superiority, and embracing the protection given by their male peers. Retention of Mexican female engineering students is important for all engineering colleges, but cultural factors must be taken into consideration. The dominance of machismo attitudes and values in Mexican culture present specific challenges to achieve an environment more supportive of women in Mexican engineering colleges. Institutions need to be proactive and creative in order to help faculty and administrators provide an environment in which female engineering students can be successful.