Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Breaking the Gender Barrier: Infusion of Technology into a Textile and Apparel Curriculum

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Breaking the Gender Barrier: Infusion of Technology into a Textile and Apparel Curriculum

Article excerpt

The Textile and Apparel Program at the University of Northern Iowa has aggressively pursued external funding to increase exposure of a primarily female student population to higher levels of science and technology to increase their ability to enter professional positions and graduate programs requiring technical and scientific backgrounds. Using surveys and qualitative data, the study evaluated the impact of curriculum changes and exposure to textile testing equipment.

In the last Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences technology issue, Quilling (1999) offered a challenge to work toward "preparing males and females to work in gender equitable environments" (p. 70) by developing curriculum that stresses technical skills, particularly in programs dominated by women. Quilling argued that for women to assume future leadership roles, they must be comfortable, competitive, and confident in areas demanding high levels of technology. This article is in part an answer to her call, and a contribution to the continuing dialogue in family and consumer sciences on the role of technology in preparing graduates for productive and challenging positions.

Rosser (1995) pointed out that despite dramatic increases of women in the work place, a gender barrier still exists, and it is holding women back from scientific and technology based professions. Using figures from the National Science Foundation (1992), Rosser pointed out that although women make up 45% of the total work force in the US, they only constitute 16% of those in science and engineering positions. Rosser (1986, 1990, 1995) is one of a number of scholars (Harding, 1986; Keller, 1985) who have argued that academia needs to change its approach to teaching science to attract and retain female students. Most of the work to date has focused on biology (Birke, 1986; Bleier, 1984; Fausto-Sterling, 1992; Hubbard, 1990), with curriculum and pedagogy in this area leading the way for other disciplines.

Guided by Rosser's model for pedagogical transformation, the authors developed this study to evaluate the impact of infusing higher levels of science and technology into the curriculum. Increases in the scientific rigor of curriculum were supported by a new textile testing facility underwritten by a matching grant1 from the University of Northern Iowa and the National Science Foundation. Following curriculum change, which included a new laboratory-based, materials analysis course, this study measured the impact of technology infusion on the aspirations, attitudes, and confidence of students enrolled in the textile and apparel program.


Historically, the textile and apparel industry and related academic programs have been divided along gender and geographic lines. Textile and apparel manufacturing was served by Southern academic programs, which primarily graduated males for entry-level jobs leading to technical positions in the industry. Midwestern programs, such as the one at the University of Northern Iowa, were first created within home economics departments; they were-and still are-dominated by female students. With the rapid growth of the retail industry in the 1980s, most Midwestern programs focused attention on graduating students for entry-level positions in retail management and merchandising (Avery, 1989). These programs were commonly called "Fashion Merchandising," and placements were in low-paying retail service positions (HesseBiber & Carter, 2000).

During this period of focus on fashion merchandising, product specific skills such as pattern-making, fabrication, and product development were not deemed important and often were removed from the curriculum. Furthermore, technical content, such as in-depth understanding of the physical properties of textile materials, and knowledge of the relationship between materials and manufacturing processes typically, was not emphasized (Laughlin & Kean, 1995). …

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