Students who are the first in their families to attend college are a crucial but sometimes overlooked group in efforts to diversify engineering education. Our research seeks to understand what role, students’ funds of knowledge (FoK) make a difference in their undergraduate experiences. FoK are the set of formal/informal knowledge and skills that students learn through family, friends, and communities outside of academic institutions. This paper reports three findings 1) funds of knowledge themes that were developed using interview data of low income, first-generation college students in engineering, 2) the process of validating the funds of knowledge themes using exploratory factor analysis, and 3) a comparison of first-generation college students and continuing-generation college students funds of knowledge.
Data for our study came from two sources. In our prior research study, interview data was collected of low-income, first-generation college students’ school and work experiences to identify the funds of knowledge that were the most relevant to their engineering work. Out of the 14 participants, 5 were women and 9 were men; 9 identified as white, 4 identified as Latino/a, and 1 identified as Native American. The interview data was used to develop seven major themes, each theme comprising of multiple survey questions. A second dataset was collected at two universities in the US south and mountain regions to validate the seven major themes and their respective survey questions. The pilot survey was completed by 186 students varying from first-year engineering students to fourth-year or higher, of which 32 were first-generation college students, 154 were continuing-generation college students, with 1 student not reporting parental level of education. The sample of first-generation college students is small but meets the minimum required sample size to run a comparative analysis.
The major themes that emerged using interview dataset were: community networks, lived experiences, tinkering knowledge from home, tinkering knowledge from work, perspective taking, reading people, and translation among people. Using the pilot dataset of all students, an exploratory factor analysis was performed to mathematically verify the underlying theoretical structures among the themes. Lastly, Welch’s t-test was used to compare the mean differences between first-generation college students and continuing-generation college students on the funds of knowledge measures.
Results of the exploratory factor analysis found that almost all items reliably loaded onto their respective constructs. Results from the Welch’s t-test revealed that first-generation college students were more likely to draw on previous experiences from their hobbies when little instruction was given to them on how to solve an engineering task (i.e., lived experiences). They were also more likely to have learned, at home, how to build, fix and work with machines and appliances (i.e., tinkering at home knowledge), were good at identifying other people’s concerns (i.e., reading people), and were more likely to serve as liaisons between people at work and supervisors, help others adjust to unfamiliar places/social situations, and help groups of people understand each other (i.e., translation among people). The funds of knowledge identified in this study are not an exhaustive account, nevertheless uncovering these hidden assets can support first-generation college students to see their experiences as equally valuable knowledge in engineering.
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