PURPOSE AND FRAMING
Despite projected growth in engineering jobs, corresponding degrees earned among Black women have remained strikingly and persistently low, even as compared to their male peers. Although most research on women in engineering focuses on predominantly white institutions, recent research suggests women of color might have more success in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) [7, 8]. This manuscript develops an evidence base for engineering resilience among students of color pursuing undergraduate research in materials, undergoing intensive mentorship and training in how to become material scientists.
Such training may be especially important for students of color – and women of color specifically – because the difficulties and frustrations inherent in scientific research may be especially fraught for already marginalized students who have had to work so hard to belong and be seen as legitimate scientists and engineers . Importantly, undergraduate research has been found to be a high-impact practice, as is the mentoring often associated with it , predicting student success [18, 19]. Indeed, students with mentors have higher GPAs, greater retention rates, and more courses completed on time. This paper builds on a mixed methods evaluation study of a series of funded undergraduate research cohorts, with a focus on a comprehensive ten-week research and training intervention in the summer of 2019.
We examine whether resilience could be engineered through structured and intentional mentored research. Using a mixed methods evaluation strategy to assess inputs, environment, and outcomes , qualitative inquiry drew on 1) an affirmation writing exercise and 2) individual interviews with undergraduate mentees. Quantitatively, we draw on the results of pre- and post-test surveys at the start and end of the summer, measuring learning, science identity, and intent to persist in STEM fields. This study builds on an evaluation of an NSF-funded interventions in "Southeastern HBCU". Original data collection and analysis employed of pre- and post-surveys assessing alternately engineering learning and engineering identity and career commitment. In between the pre- and post-surveys, the researchers observed students’ participation in intensive materials research mentored by more senior scholars of color, led an affirmation training and writing intervention, and conducted and coded individual interviews with all participants.
During the June 2019 engi-resilience workshop, the following reflections from students indicate alignment between their identity and their engineering interest. After a brief presentation and discussion, the 11 summer REU students were asked to “write a paragraph about how you are uniquely well-suited for success in materials science. It can be about your skills, interest, experience, perspective, values, or anything else.” The following responses were culled to share a range of their perspectives. Given research evidence on the efficacy of such affirmation exercises, a pre-test was issued before this intervention and a post-test was issued at the end of the summer, showing gains in most areas of learning as well as in their engineering identity, particularly in how it aligned with their identities as students of color, women, and/or in fitting with their interests and formative experiences. Notably, a consistent theme was resilience. These were not students who had consistent and early exposure to engineering knowledge and training, but they saw their “unyielding drive,” ability to push themselves “outside of their comfort zone… into engineering,” and – when present – family and community supports as key factors to their short-term and intended longer-term engineering success.
We measure resilience through individual interviews with students halfway through a summer intervention using mentorship and undergraduate research – two high-impact practices – and through the measured gains in their assessments of their ability in topical areas of manufacturing science. Our research findings suggest the value of validating, affirming, and fostering the skill development and confidence of HBCU students pursuing materials science and engineering, manufacturing a resilient and robust engineering workforce.
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