AWE Literature Overview

Psychological Sense of Community for Women in Engineering -- Abstract

Psychological Sense of Community (PSOC), a central concept from community psychology, provides a framework for understanding and assessing women’s sense of belonging in the engineering environments of work, education, and, for students, residential life.

  • The lack of feeling accepted in engineering as students and faculty has been a persistent barrier for women in engineering (Goodman & Cunningham, 2002; McIIwee & Robinson, 1992).

  • PSOC for college students is associated with lower levels of “burnout,” which is in turn associated with academic performance (McCarthy et al., 1990).

  • PSOC is higher for students in the following groups: fraternity or sorority members, private school undergraduates, students living on campus, out-of-state residents, seniors and females, extroverted students, those attending smaller institutions (less than 10,000), and students with optimal levels of campus participation (DeNeui, 2003; Lounsbury & DeNeui, 1995; Lounsbury & Deneul, 1996).

  • Students in most majors have higher levels of PSOC than those in engineering.

PSOC, while a psychological construct, is also a group-level phenomenon. It is an indicator of ongoing underlying issues ranging from individual social-cognitive processes (Valian, 2004) to institutional practices (Rosser, 2004). Women’s psychological lives within the engineering environment cannot be disconnected from the social environment. In many ways, PSOC is akin to the research on “chilly climate” (Hall & Sandler, 1982; Sandler, Silverberg, & Hall, 1996; Heller, Puff, & Miller, 1985). While a “hostile climate” negatively impacts individual women’s, so too may a low PSOC. Yet in neither case would the individual be targeted for analysis and intervention, but rather those groups and institutions perpetuating exclusionary practices.


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Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)