“It Takes a Certain Kind of Girl to be in Engineering”: The Rhetorical Construction of Undergraduate Women’s Engineering Identities
My dissertation, “It Takes a Certain Kind of Girl to be in Engineering”: The Rhetorical Construction of Undergraduate Women’s Engineering Identities, applies a feminist framework to rhetorical identity construction by examining how female undergraduate students cultivate a professional identity as women and as engineers through coursework and professional development opportunities. My project begins by tracing how the masculine culture of engineering that emphasizes “hard” technical mastery over “soft” skills such as communication, emotional empathy, and leadership feeds into the gendered assumptions of engineering practices and marginalizes women in academic and workplace spaces. To better understand how female students negotiate identity work in this context, I conducted an empirical study in which I interviewed three junior and four senior female engineering students about their academic and internship or co-operative experiences. I also conducted classroom observations of technical writing courses and design-focused engineering courses to learn how women engaged in group work and class discussions. My findings not only illustrate how these students defend communication and leadership as engineering as opposed to “feminine” traits, but also how they use rhetorical identity negotiation tactics to respond to implicit biases in their classrooms and workplaces. I tie these findings back to the classroom to suggest that by learning more about the relationship between gender and discourse and its role in engineering identity formation, instructors can model strategies to their students that help them in turn forge more gender inclusive workplaces.