I defended my PhD in Environmental Engineering and Queer Studies!

Happiest and proudest day of my life as a queer, first-gen, low income scholar! Right before presenting.

My dissertation, Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Undergraduate Engineering Students: Perspectives, Resiliency, and Suggestions for Improving Engineering Education, was defended on January 22nd. I am excited to have in this post the video link to watch, a download for use in any courses you teach, and the slide deck for reference! I want this work to be accessible to the public.


Dissertation PDF available in the Oregon State University archive:

Download Video: https://oregonstate.box.com/s/p6860cxybmnporxs9r5zw4q77fdpse7d

PPT Slides: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Wy-ynXhjvITqQWOrey8xjWKJxh68Mu0r/view?usp=sharing


Gender has been the subject of study in engineering education and social research for decades. However, little attention has been given to transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) experiences or perspectives. The role of cisgender or gender conforming status has not been investigated nor considered in prevailing frameworks of gender dynamics in engineering. The overwhelming majority of literature in the field remains within a reductive gender binary. TGNC students and professionals are largely invisible in engineering education research and theory and this exclusion causes harm to individuals as well as our community as a whole. Such exclusion is not limited to engineering contexts but is found to be a central component of systemic TGNC marginalization in higher education and in the United States.

This dissertation presents literature analysis and results from a national research project which uses queer theory and community collaborative feminist methodologies to record, examine, and share the diversity of experiences within the TGNC undergraduate engineering student community, and to further generate community-informed suggestions for increased support and inclusion within engineering education programs. Transgender and gender nonconforming participants and researchers were involved at every phase of the study.

An online questionnaire was developed and administered to students across the United States (n=299). Participants for follow-up interviews were recruited from a sample of the questionnaire respondents. Twenty (n=20) final transcripts from collaborative conversations were imported into qualitative software and interpreted thematically. A virtual online community was created using Slack for feedback in research and analyses. A broad diversity of genders, races, abilities, classes, academic disciplines, and geographic locations in the TGNC engineering student community were recorded in the data.

Participants provided varied experiences in engineering contexts, with relationships between race, gender, ability, and region identified. Gender experiences were perceived as different from cisgender peers. Participants formed supportive communities outside of engineering contexts which bolstered their success. Online spaces and political involvement were persistent themes. TGNC students suggest educational initiatives, classroom practices, cultural change, and continued research to be performed.

Malicious responders to the questionnaire, in addition to valid TGNC responders, were identified and analyzed with the objective of gaining critical insight into ideologies and rhetoric underpinning bias against TGNC individuals in engineering education. Such malicious and hateful respondents aimed to harass the researchers while filling the data with slurs and misleading information. These responses were coded thematically and interpreted through a queer, trans, and antifascist lens. 51 responses expressed overt white supremacist ideology and explicitly malicious sentiment compared to 301 responses categorized as valid. Responses expressed overt white supremacist ideology through online meme slang while further targeting people of color, Jews, and political movements. Respondents who targeted this questionnaire demonstrated characteristics associated with contemporary white nationalist radicalization online and across geek and nerd communities. Further research on political identity formation in engineering education alongside political education initiatives are called for.

This dissertation brings forward narratives and understandings of gender dynamics, personal and community resiliency, and suggestions for educators from the TGNC engineering student population. We argue for a substantive disciplinary shift towards studies which center the deep complexity of gender dynamics for both trans and cis students and the implementation of social justice educational initiatives. Each of these components should be informed by, and accountable to, literature on gender theory, queer studies, and feminist research methodology. 

Keywords: gender, transgender, engineering education, resiliency, LGBTQ+, research methods

Author: Andrea Haverkamp

Andrea Haverkamp holds a PhD in environmental engineering with a minor in queer studies. Her dissertation research explored the support systems and community resiliency of transgender and gender nonconforming undergraduate students in undergraduate engineering education. She is currently a labor organizer in Washington state.

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