Latinas are entering higher education at greater rates than before, yet they have disproportionately lower completion rates and engineering career representation than their peers (Excelencia in Education, 2015). In many cases, Latinas may have difficulty envisioning themselves as engineering, being validated by the engineering community, and continuing within the engineering disciplines (Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Lord & Camacho, 2013). Therefore, it is imperative that scholars examine the engineering identity development of Latinas during college.
This study was framed by two research questions:
1. How do Latinas in engineering develop their engineering identities during college?
2. How do other intersectional identities influence the development of an engineering identity during college?
This study utilized role identity theory, which addresses the meanings that individuals attach to the context of their social and cultural roles, to understand the engineering identity development of undergraduate Latinas (Stryker & Burke, 2000). The study utilized a phenomenological approach to examine lived experiences of 5 undergraduate Latinas majoring in engineering at a tier-one predominantly white university. Phenomenology allowed for exploring experiences in depth and providing rich detail of meaning making and “essence” (Moustakas, 1994). Each student participated in two one-hour, semi-structured face-to-face interviews.
This study found that engineering identity for Latina students is formed and supported through interactions and involvement with individuals and groups outside normal classroom and laboratory activities. The five Latina participants named their families and campus organizations focused on women in engineering as important sources of support as they pursued their education. Further, this study found that Latinas in engineering encounter tension between their engineering identities and other identities such as their gender and racial/ethnic identities. By understanding the process of professional identity development and its interactions with other personal identities, researchers, practitioners, and administrators may develop support mechanisms that provide a holistic approach to supporting the present and future success of its engineering students.
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