Across the sciences, engineering is one of the least diverse disciplines. But Utah State University just received a grant to investigate LGBT+ representation in engineering.
"The inclusion of minorities has historically been seen as a touchy-feely sort of thing, and so we’re engineers, we do hard science, we don’t do that touchy-feely stuff, so yes there is a stigma to work against," said Ryan Berke, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Utah State University.
Berke and his collaborator Renee Galliher, professor in psychology at Utah State University recently received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study career development and professional identity in undergraduate students in the LGBT+ community who study engineering.
"A primary goal for this grant is to develop a better understanding of what are the contextual factors that support college students and the development of their professional identities and specifically the integration of their sexual identities with their professional identities with a focus on number one trying to identify what are the disciplines that are doing that well, and then subsequently focus on engineering students specifically," Galliher said.
Using survey and interview approaches at universities across the United States, Berke and Galliher aim to better understand LGBT+ communities in engineering, and how to increase LGBT+ presence and participation in engineering.
"What are students’ experiences in terms of support for their sexual identity development, their sense of authenticity in their educational context, their capacity to integrate and to feel coherent in terms of their sexual identity and their developing sexual identity. With the idea that we can use that to only to support initiatives in engineering, but more broadly as well," Galliher said.
Through this research, Berke and Galliher hope to identify both barriers that deter and support systems that promote access to education for LGBT+ communities in engineering and then be able to create actionable steps universities can implement to increase minority representation.