This Work in Progress paper describes interviews with first-year engineering (FYE) students conducted as part of a multi-year collaborative research project that focuses on understanding factors that impact undergraduate engineering community and identity development.
Students can pursue a multitude of pathways to earn an engineering diploma. For example, at one institution a student may enroll in a common FYE two-course sequence, while at another institution a student may enroll in a single discipline-specific FYE course. Beyond differences in FYE course structure, timing, and content, other FYE experiences shape students’ unique pathways. For example, a student may transfer from a different institution, participate in an engineering living learning community, or complete an FYE experience in a department different than the original major. Regardless of the pathway, engineering students encounter different experiences in the pursuit of their engineering degrees.
This longitudinal project will aid the engineering education community in understanding how various FYE pathways and experiences affect the formation of engineering communities and students’ individual engineering identity. To theoretically frame our work, we use Wenger’s community of practice framework and its connection to situated learning, which includes identity as a key component. Our research builds on past engineering education research that used the community of practice framework by applying the framework to FYE and specifically focusing on the impacts related to identity development.
Three sets of interviews will be conducted for this work; however, this paper will focus on only the first set. Students at two 4-year institutions and one regional campus are the focus of this paper. Institution 1 uses a direct matriculation approach with introduction courses required by all majors, and Institution 2 and 3 use a pre-major with a common FYE structure. Interviews were conducted with 12 students from Institution 1, 14 from Institution 2, and three from Institution 3 in Spring 2018. Participants had varying backgrounds and demographics (e.g., transfer students, regional campus students, students from different engineering majors, students from common first year programs, and students from discipline-specific programs). The students were from different races and ethnicities (e.g., Hispanic, white, African American, and Asian students). Eleven participants were female and 18 were male. During the initial interviews, students were asked questions including: 1) What kinds of groups did you associate with during your first year? 2) In what ways are you connected to these groups? 3) What was your greatest struggle during your first year? 4) Are you an engineer? Our semi-structured interview protocol allowed follow-on questions to help understand how described FYE experiences impacted the ways in which participants built their engineering communities and developed their engineering identities.
This paper provides an introduction to our participants, and to the various engineering pathways they have pursued. Our analysis will identify critical experiences that have supported the participants as they have started to form engineering communities and begun to develop their individual engineering identities. While we continue to observe community and identity development over the next three years, these initial interviews provide a principal data point for each student’s experience and the communities formed during the student’s first year.
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