Feds Spend $587,441 to Make Engineering a 'Safe Zone' for LGBTQ Students

Study seeks to combat 'chilly' environment for LGBTQ engineers

Engineer Daniel Schubert (left) and student apprentice Alexander Bell (right) talk to each other in a laboratory / Getty Images
September 18, 2017

The National Science Foundation is spending over $100,000 to create "safe zone" inclusion training so more members of the LGBTQ community become engineers.

The project, which will not start until January 2018, is a joint study being conducted by the American Society For Engineering Education, Rowan University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The focus of the study is to find ways to combat what the researchers call a "chilly" environment for lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals in engineering labs.

Two separate grants totaling $587,441 were awarded Thursday. A grant worth $473,325 was awarded to the American Society For Engineering Education, and $114,116 was given to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"Recent research on the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals in engineering has shown that the climate can be unfriendly (or 'chilly') for both students and professionals," according to the grant for the study. "This project aims to increase the inclusion of LGBTQ students and professionals in engineering."

The study aims to "foster inclusion" and allow college faculty and professors to "become change agents."

"The project will identify issues faced by LGBTQ students and professionals in engineering, identify and implement strategies to create more welcoming engineering environments, and disseminate those strategies so that they can be expanded to a national level," the grant states.

The study also involves creating an online course called "SafeZone," which can train college engineering professors how to be inclusive to gay students and other sexual minorities.

"In addition, the research will be the basis of systematic development and formative refinement of an online SafeZone course to provide inclusion training to engineering students and professionals nationwide," the grant states.

"A chilly climate for LGBTQ individual [sic] can be found in every sector of STEM professions, where cultural norms and professional ideologies make it difficult to recognize and rectify exclusionary practices," the grant states. "One negative consequence of this chilly environment is difficulty in recruiting and retaining talented LGBTQ individuals into the engineering profession."

"This project uses qualitative research to generate new knowledge about the processes of developing a community of practice to promote LGBTQ inclusion in engineering, how the members of the community develop into change agents, and what strategies are effective in reshaping norms and increasing LGBTQ inclusion in engineering departments," the grant added.

Kelly Cross, research scientist for the University of Illinois, Stephanie Farrell, the chair of experiential engineering education at Rowan University, and Rocio Chavela Guerra of the American Society for Engineering Education, are leading the study.

Cross list of research interests includes "diversity and inclusion in STEM, intersectionality, teamwork and communication skills, assessment, and identity construction."