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Northeastern Receives NSF Grant to Study Self-Efficacy and Retention of Female Undergraduate Engineering Students

In collaboration with Rochester Institute of Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University and the University of Wyoming

BOSTON – October 16, 2008 – Northeastern University’s College of Engineering is the co-recipient of a $499,990 three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study how cooperative education and related on-the-job experiences affect female undergraduate engineering students. Working with colleagues at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (VT) and the University of Wyoming (UW), the research team will investigate the hypothesis that women in formal engineering programs who participate in work related to their field of study during their undergraduate studies have higher self-efficacy and are more likely to graduate with a degree in their chosen field.

Rachelle Reisberg, Director of Women in Engineering at Northeastern, is Principal Investigator and Joseph Raelin, the Asa S. Knowles Chair at Northeastern’s College of Business Administration, is Co-Principal Investigator. Sara Wadia-Fascetti, Associate Vice Provost and a member of Northeastern’s College of Engineering faculty, is also a member of the project team.

The study, Pathways to Work Self-Efficacy and Retention of Women in Undergraduate Engineering, is one of the first to investigate how co-op opportunities and other formal work experience programs impact the retention rate of female undergraduate engineering students. In addition, the study will examine programs, such as mentoring, advising and academic living communities, to see how they contribute to self-efficacy and retention.

“There is a great need to identify the factors that contribute to retaining female engineering students through graduation, and the Pathways study will empirically examine the links among pre-existing demographic conditions, supports – such as mentorships – and three forms of self-efficacy – work, career, and academic – on retention,” said Professor Raelin, the Knowles Chair of Practice-Oriented Education at Northeastern.

Currently, women are underrepresented in engineering. They make up only 18.6% of engineering bachelor degree recipients and, in 2006, held only 11% of engineering positions.

“Several studies have shown that female undergraduates studying engineering lose their sense of self-efficacy during the course of the program,” said Reisberg. “It is important to identify what factors, both academic and social, will help keep these women focused and confident in their abilities and eventually lead them to a successful career as an engineer.”

Over 95% of engineering students at Northeastern and all students at RIT participate in cooperative education. Both UW and VT do not require it and thus serve as comparison schools for statistical purposes.

The study results will provide important data that will point to ways in which engineering schools might improve female retention rates. Self-efficacy as a determining factor of academic success will be thoroughly examined, resulting in an in-depth analysis of how this variable affects whether a female student continues as an engineering student, explores another degree option at the institution, or drops out.

“This research study will provide clear data regarding the effectiveness of programs offered in academia to promote the advancement of women in the field of engineering, who have the capacity to truly succeed as engineers,” said Wadia-Fascetti.

Reisberg added, “Our project benefits from a collaborative partnership forged by the universities undertaking this unique study, and we look forward to sharing the results with the larger academic community.”

For more information about this project, please contact Jenny Eriksen at (617) 373-2802 or via email at

About Northeastern University

Founded in 1898, Northeastern University is a private research university located in the heart of Boston. Northeastern is a leader in interdisciplinary research, urban engagement, and the integration of classroom learning with real-world experience. The university’s distinctive cooperative education program, where students alternate semesters of full-time study with semesters of paid work in fields relevant to their professional interests and major, is one of the largest and most innovative in the world. The University offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs leading to degrees through the doctorate in six undergraduate colleges, eight graduate schools, and two part-time divisions. For more information, please visit

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