The Intersectionality of Non-normative Identities in the Cultures of Engineering project has explored how engineering students who hold previously described previously described non-normative identities navigate the cultures of engineering. Our goal is to investigate ways that students with non-normative identities develop as engineers. Our work has proceeded in two phases: 1) Characterizing the attitudinal profiles of normative and non-normative students in engineering (quantitative phase) and 2) Understanding students’ normative and non-normative identities in engineering and how they influence their experiences and progression in engineering (qualitative phase). Drawing from our findings, we will develop a workshop and set of courses to incorporate diversity topics into engineering programs.
In the first phase of the project, we quantitatively measured and characterized student groups with normative and non-normative identities in engineering. Our definitions of normative and non-normative are developed through Topological Data Analysis of a set of multi-institution survey data (n = 2916). “Normative” and “non-normative” are defined by students’ relative responses on a set of student attitudinal constructs and personality traits: motivation (value, goal orientation, future time perspective), engineering and physics identities (performance/competence, and recognition beliefs), personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, belongingness) and grit (consistency of interest).
This paper focuses on initial results from Phase 2 of our study, in which we conducted a series of qualitative, longitudinal interviews with students selected from the normative and non-normative groups (identified in Phase 1) to understand how they experience engineering and define their educational trajectories over the first two years of college. Interview data has been deductively analyzed based on our existing identity framework as well as inductively coded for emerging themes on how students feel belongingness within engineering culture.
Results of qualitative analysis have demonstrated three main themes to date. First, engineering students describe their perceptions of belonging as being influenced by either having or not having (as a binary evaluation) particular skill sets or attitudes/beliefs. These skill sets varied by participant and created different perceptions of belongingness in engineering. Second, students are determining their belonging and futures in engineering by comparing themselves to different “types” of engineers and their perceived fit or congruence to these types. Types of engineer are often defined by the skills utilized in their work, rather than different conceptualizations of who looks like or can be an engineer. Finally, participants (predominantly from the normative group) noted that they have had previous experiences with engineering and that these experiences provided them with an advantage when compared to students without these experiences. Participants went on to report utilizing these previous experiences to sustain interest in the face of challenges within engineering curricula. Together these results indicate that engineering students are evaluating their belongingness and futures in engineering based on skills and attitudes and the potential application of these skills in the future. To further student development as engineers (regardless of attitudinal group), educators should look to bring in diverse representations of engineering work and skills such that students have relevant past experiences to draw upon when encountering new challenges such that students have relevant past experiences to draw upon when encountering new challenges.
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