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Special Issue: Re-imagining who does STEM
Published: 31-01-2020

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

Purdue University

Alice L. Pawley

Alice Pawley is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education and an affiliate faculty member in the Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies Program and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She runs the Feminist Research in Engineering Education Group, whose diverse projects and group members are described at She was a National Academy of Engineering CASEE Fellow in 2007, received a CAREER award in 2010 and a PECASE award in 2012 for her project researching the stories of undergraduate engineering women and men of color and white women, and received the Denice Denton Emerging Leader award from the Anita Borg Institute in 2013. She has been author or co-author on papers receiving ASEE-ERM’s best paper award, the AAEE Best Paper Award, the Benjamin Dasher award, and co-authored the paper nominated by&the ASEE Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for ASEE Best PIC Paper for 2018.&Mostrecently, she received her school’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring, Award for Leadership, and a 2019 award from the College of Engineering as an Outstanding Faculty&Mentor of Engineering Graduate Students. She helped found, fund, and grow the PEER Collaborative, a peer mentoring group of early career and recently tenured faculty and research staff primarily evaluated based on their engineering education research productivity.

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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.

How to Cite

Pawley, A. L. (2020). Shift the default in “broadening participation” in STEM equity research. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 11(3), 365–373. Retrieved from