2021 CoNECD

Work in Progress: Broadening Participation in Engineering: Exploring the Burdens and Benefits of Student Volunteerism

Presented at CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 2 Technical Session 3

Across the United States, organizations are engaged in ongoing efforts to broaden participation in engineering (BPE). Because of the lack of persistent representation in engineering, these efforts focus across the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary levels of education, primarily targeting women and people of color. While extensive literature has documented the impacts of BPE efforts on participants themselves, less research examines the experiences of those who engage in efforts to broaden participation. Such an investigation is important because much of the labor that goes into BPE is provided by underrepresented students themselves, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Accordingly, the purpose of this paper is to explore the impact that broadening participation volunteerism has on engineering students from underserved communities. Volunteerism traditionally refers to the voluntary, sustained, and ongoing helpfulness of one individual to another. We argue that, despite some students being compensated for their contributions, their contribution to BPE efforts should be viewed as volunteerism because: 1) their involvement is non-compulsory, and 2) they are not substantially compensated when compared to what they could be alternatively doing with their engineering training.

This work-in-progress is part of a larger study aimed at understanding the impacts of broadening participation volunteerism of mentors from underserved communities at the pre-college, undergraduate, and graduate levels. To date, we have conducted 9 narrative interviews with underrepresented students who are actively involved in BPE volunteerism at a large, high research, predominantly white university.
In this paper, we describe preliminary results concerning the burdens and benefits, both personal and professional, associated with BPE volunteerism. The findings can provide programming administrators a deeper understanding of the taxation that marginalized students may experience when it comes to BPE.

  1. Natali Huggins Virginia Tech [biography]
  2. Dr. Cherie D. Edwards Virginia Commonwealth University [biography]
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