The paper is being submitted as a work in progress for the ERM Division.
Higher education literature is replete with evidence that socioeconomic variables and background characteristics inform a myriad of factors related to students’ college life. These include the institutions students choose to attend, their experiences after matriculation, differences in success rates, and even post-graduation outcomes. This is particularly true in engineering, where gaps in academic performance, persistence, and degree attainment still endure despite the litany of federal, institutional, and unit-level resources designed to address socioeconomic disparities.
In contrast to much of the literature that takes a deficit-based approach, in this work we presuppose that it is not simply differences in socioeconomic variables and background characteristics that separates highly engaged, successful students in engineering from their less engaged, unsuccessful counterparts. Rather, we suggest that an underlying set of socialization processes by which students become familiar with collegiate engineering education makes students more or less likely to engage in activities that are associated with success. We posit that students’ experiences with these socialization processes – institutional socialization tactics and proactive behaviors – may better explain patterns of participation and outcomes in engineering that go beyond the consideration of access to academic and social resources.
Drawing on Weidman’s Undergraduate Socialization framework, we developed a conceptual model for understanding the socialization processes that inform engineering students’ participation in co-curricular activities (specifically professional engineering societies and student design teams). This model is guided by three hypotheses. First, we hypothesize that socioeconomic, academic, and demographic background characteristics combine to uniquely inform students’ experiences with two socialization processes – institutional tactics and proactive behaviors. This, in turn, informs their participation in co-curricular activities, such as professional engineering societies and student design teams. Finally, students who participate in co-curricular engineering activities have different academic and social outcomes than their counterparts who do not participate in co-curricular engineering activities. We also developed a survey instrument based on this model to understand how various socioeconomic variables and background characteristics inform students’ socialization processes and, as a result, their outcomes in engineering.
Our goal is to understand the factors that shape students’ socialization into engineering, as well as their development into engineers. Ultimately, our goal is to narrow gaps in participation and success in engineering by addressing negative socialization experiences.
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