2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity

Social Belonging Among Engineering Students in Early Required Courses

Presented at Track: Collegiate - Technical Session 7

A sense of social belonging appears to be a crucial factor in student success and retention in STEM [1,2]. As part of a larger NSF-funded project, we collected data about students’ perceived social belonging in the department for a physics course and a programming course taken by the majority of engineering majors in their first year. Students completed four surveys: in the first two weeks of the semester, after the first exam (approximately 6-8 weeks into the semester), approximately one month later, and in the last two weeks of the course. (Data from the last two weeks of the course are still being aggregated and will be reported in the full paper.) Across both courses, students reported a decrease in belonging over time: regressing standardized belongingness on the measurement time point (coded as 0, 1, and 2) nested within student revealed a significant negative slope, B = -0.13, F(1, 216.94) = 6.15, p = 0.01. We examined whether this pattern differed for several historically marginalized groups: women, non-white students, first generation students, and/or low-income students. Female students reported marginally less social belonging than their male peers overall, B = -0.27, F(1, 203.91) = 2.95, p = 0.09. Comparing belonging at each time point suggested that this difference was primarily due to a difference in belonging during the intake survey (Ms = 4.88 vs. 4.66, t(136.34) = 1.89, p = 0.06, d = 0.30); male and female students did not differ significantly in reported belonging in the department at other time points (p > 0.39, d < 0.18). Other groups did not differ in overall belonging from their majority peers (all B < 0.35, p > 0.10). The rate of change in belonging across time did not differ for any demographic groups (all p > 0.20). These results are encouraging in that they suggest that students from historically marginalized backgrounds do not feel less belonging than their peers, but concerning in that belonging generally decreased across the semester. Additionally, it is problematic that female students felt less belonging, particularly early in the semester.

[1] T.L. Strayhorn, College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge, 2012. 

[2] K.F. Osterman, “Students’ need for belonging in the school community,” Rev. Educ. Res., vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 323–367, 2000. 

  1. Dr. Jennifer Blue Miami University [biography]
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