One of the most significant challenges facing engineering education in the United States is the persistent problem of inclusion and retention of certain racial and ethnic groups; particularly Blacks and Latinos. This poster presents results from a RIGEE-funded project whose aim is study how formal and informal interactions with engineering agents (professionals and faculty) influence attitudes and intentions of URM students for enrollment and persistence in engineering. The study employs a case study approach guided by a framework that incorporates social cognitive, social capital, and community cultural wealth theories.
As part of the two-year study, we administered questionnaires and conducted focus groups with first-year (new entrants) and junior and senior (persisters) engineering students at one college of engineering in a Predominantly White urban research university in the Southeastern US. Questionnaires were open to all engineering students, while focus groups were open to only students who identified as Black and/or Latino. The college of engineering at this institution enrolls over 2,500 students in programs in seven different undergraduate engineering programs. Black and Latino students make up small proportions of the overall engineering population (7% Black, 6% Latino), whose distribution varies significantly by engineering degree program. Women engineering students of color make up much higher proportions among their race/ethnicity groups (14%-15%) than their White counterparts (8%).
Data for the first-year case study were collected within the first 8 weeks of study (fall 2013). The six focus group participants were all male, and equally balanced by race/ethnicity. The participants in the questionnaire included 11 Black students (6 men, 5 women) and 18 Latino students (16 men, 2 women). Analysis of the data revealed three important themes: pre-college interactions with educators (particularly calculus teachers); limited early interactions with engineering faculty; factors that affect student-faculty interaction and faculty perceptions of students; desire and expectations for faculty to provide links to opportunities; and unique factors and barriers related to the nature and culture of engineering.
The persisters (junior and senior) case study include data from 41 students on the questionnaire (24 Black and 17 Latino), and a total of 18 participants in the focus groups - 6 women (3 Black, 3 Latina), and 12 men (7 Black, 5 Latino), collected during the 2014-15 academic year. We explore how these persisters use social capital and other forms of cultural wealth to achieve their goal of obtaining an engineering degree. Descriptive quantitative data indicate that persisters employ several types of capital. Focus group discussions revealed how persisters remain focused on their goal to become engineers despite barriers and challenges, use family as a source of support and motivation, and find support from faculty in the competitive culture of engineering.
The findings of these two case studies provide snapshots of Black and Latino students at two important stages of the engineering education process – initial enrollment and advanced study. Our final paper and poster will present research and practice recommendations for engineering educators.
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