Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Ann Brady

Committee Member 1

Nancy Grimm

Committee Member 2

Lauren Bowen

Committee Member 3

Linda Ott


In order to fill the current employment gaps in STEM, specifically engineering, initiatives have shifted towards increasing the number of women and minorities, who are both significantly underrepresented. (National Science Board, 2016) If cooperative education is to participate in this, we must first ensure the unique qualities of the women’s co-op experience are adequately understood for practitioners to assist in setting the women up for success and best meeting their needs. Cooperative education research on female co-ops is limited, thus missing out on an opportunity to assist in these national initiatives. This dissertation provides a study on female engineering co-op students and their experiences as women in a male-dominated profession. The framework on which this dissertation rests encompasses four key feminist theorists: Simone de Beauvoir, Sandra Harding, Donna Haraway, and Kathy Charmaz. Harding (1991) calls for a shift in the sciences to be more inclusive of women, and a valuable approach in this research is to think from the women’s perspectives. The women’s voices were critical to this study, so the qualitative data consisted of two rounds of in-depth interviews to gain their insider perspective into the everyday realities of their co-op experiences. Utilizing Wenger’s (1991) social theory of learning, I argue that the experiences associated with the community of practice are most significant, because it focuses on the learning beyond mere skills. Through an analysis on the culmination of the women’s perspectives, I offer a theoretical model that identifies the key areas of negotiation the women faced within their communities of practice; those key areas being gender, identity, and learning. Ultimately, the model I propose, based on Haraway’s (1991) cyborg metaphor, provides an approach to cooperative education which focuses on the negotiation required within a community of practice, the choices that are available within the community, and the social change the women can potentially generate, ultimately shifting their communities to be more inclusive of those populations they are working to garner.