Recent reports indicate that there are less than 1900 (0.6%) Native American undergraduate and graduate engineering students nationwide (Yoder, 2016). Although Native Americans are underrepresented in the field of engineering, there is very little research that explores the contributing factors. The purpose of our exploratory research is to identify the barriers, supports, and personal strengths that Native American engineering students identify as being influential in developing their career interests and aspirations in engineering. Informed by research in Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 2000), we conducted an on-line survey to assess the motivational variables that guide the career thinking and advancement of students preparing to enter the field of engineering. Instrumentation included Mapping Vocational Challenges (Lapan & Turner, 2000, 2009, 2014), Perceptions of Barriers (McWhirter, 1997), the Structured Career Development Inventory (Lapan & Turner, 2006; Turner et al., 2006), the Career-Related Parent Support Scale (Turner, Alliman-Brissett, Lapan, Udipi, & Ergun, 2003), and the Assessment of Campus Climate for Underrepresented Groups (Rankin, 2001), which were used to measure interests, goals, personal strengths and internal and external barriers and supports.
Participants (N=23) consisted of graduate (≈25%) and undergraduate (≈75%) Native American engineering students. Their survey responses indicated that students were highly interested in, and had strong self-efficacy for, outcome expectations for, and persistence for pursuing their engineering careers. Their most challenging barriers were financial (e.g., having expenses that are greater than income, and having to work while going to school just to make ends meet) and academic barriers (e.g., not sufficiently prepared academically to study engineering). Perceptions of not fitting in and a lack of career information were also identified as moderately challenging barriers. Students endorsed a number of personal strengths, with the strongest being confidence in their own communication and collaboration skills, as well as commitment to their academic and career preparation. The most notable external support to their engineering career development was their parents’ encouragement to make good grades and to go to a school where they could prepare for a STEM career. Students overall found that their engineering program climates (i.e., interactions with students, faculty, and staff, and program expectations of how individuals treat each other), were cooperative, friendly, equitable, and respectful. Study results are interpreted in light of theory, and recommendations for future research and practice are provided.
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