First-generation college students have entered the spotlight of educational research and reform. This shift in perspective has been covered in popular media, for example, in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s series entitled “Engine of Inequality,” which analyzes the challenges facing first-generation college students. However, engineering programs have been slower in responding to this new emphasis on first-generation college students, perhaps assuming that the lack of success of underrepresented groups is a result of deficiencies in the students’ background and preparation. Our research challenges this assumption by explicitly investigating the connections between first-generation engineering students’ success and their experiences within higher education, using a large-scale quantitative survey. Whereas the deficiency perspective focuses on what these students lack and how they need to change themselves in order to adapt to engineering undergraduate curricula, this study seeks to understand how first-generation college student’s funds of knowledge (i.e., family and cultural knowledge developed by growing up in poor and/or working households) can be leveraged in their engineering work and the factors that contribute to their success in engineering.
This poster will present: 1) an overview of the funds of knowledge constructs used in the survey, 2) the preliminary results from a pilot survey, and 3) an overview of all the survey questions, including engineering identity, agency, belongingness, institutional support, grit, sources of recognition, and certainty of career path.
Using ethnographic data of first-generation college students in engineering, from prior work, seven themes were created to capture aspects of students’ funds of knowledge. The themes were classified as follows: community networks, lived experiences, tinkering knowledge from home, tinkering knowledge from work, perspective taking, reading people, and translation among people. To date, the funds of knowledge themes have been validated, at the first level, using exploratory factor analysis with a broad range of engineering students from first-years to fourth-year of higher at two institutions, one in the Midwest and one in the mountain region. Convenience sampling was used to test and validate the funds of knowledge survey constructs. We are currently in our second data collection process. The large-scale survey will be administered to upperclassman and alumni at five participating institutions across the United States, i.e., in a large public polytechnic, small selective private polytechnic, large land grant, large sub-urban public, and large public universities.
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