Shift the default in “broadening participation” in STEM equity research

Alice L. Pawley


There seems to be a disconnect between the purported goal of engineering education (and perhaps STEM education broadly) to become a more inclusive discipline, and the means by which this is accomplished. Efforts from thousands of dedicated researchers and program directors around the country continue in full force to develop theory and programming to better recruit, hire or admit, retain, promote, and sustain underrepresented women and men in engineering education; and yet overall the needle budges little.

In this perspectives paper, I join with others in thinking through a new way for thinking about gender and race in engineering education research. While the careful investigation of psychological constructs in education have brought great value to the broadening participation in STEM research space, less interrogated are the structural aspects of how gender and race are baked into the very institution of higher education and of engineering education into which we are hoping to recruit, hire or admit, retain, promote, and sustain underrepresented women and men. This paper draws on feminist and critical race theory to help us collectively continue to “shift the default” away from the White male backdrop of higher and engineering education, and join our research voices with those who have been in this space a while to more insistently question how Whiteness and maleness has been baked into the structure of our educational institutions.


engineering education; feminist theory; critical race theory; ruling relations

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