Understanding the Impacts of COVID-19 on Feelings of Stress and Anxiety in Women Engineering Students

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Title

ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings

Publication Date



For over two decades, the percentage of women earning bachelor degrees in engineering has remained stagnant at 20%, despite continued growth in the overall number of undergraduate engineering degrees awarded in the US. Understanding how to increase both recruitment and retention is critical to improving the representation of women in engineering. Beyond the interest in drawing more women to engineering majors, the literature cites many reasons for why women choose to leave engineering programs. For example, feelings of worry, discouragement, and anxiety are shown to inhibit learning and academic progress, in ways that disproportionality affect women, and can lead to exiting an engineering program. In the fall of 2018, we piloted a study to better understand differences between women, men, and non-binary engineering students at our liberal arts university in the northeastern US. The survey is administered twice each academic year to explore self-efficacy, belongingness, preparedness, and engagement, both longitudinally and cross-sectionally. In March 2020, our university quickly pivoted to remote learning in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 and in the fall of 2020 our campus re-opened for hybrid learning. The abrupt changes in higher education, brought on by the current public health crisis, affect students' learning and mental health, in ways that will likely be long lasting. To measure the impacts of the pandemic on engineering students, twenty Likert-type screener questions were added to the survey, which was re-administered in June 2020 and again in September 2020. This paper shares findings from the two most recent survey points, with emphasis on the results from the COVID screener questions. Women reported significantly higher levels of stress on ten out of the twenty COVID screener questions, as compared to the men, spanning topics related to home life, physical health, mental health and academics. Fewer significant changes were observed over time in men than women. This study aims to provide insights on how to better recruit, retain and support women in undergraduate engineering programs through measuring differences in feelings of stress and anxiety between genders and across time.



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