This paper presents results of work completed on our project, Intersectionality of Non-normative Identities in the Cultures of Engineering (InIce). The overarching focus of this project is on how students who hold non-normative identities position themselves, grow through their education, and navigate the cultures of engineering they experience in college. Our goal is to investigate ways to engage students who hold non-normative identities to become more active and lifelong participants in engineering disciplines. Our work is proceeding in three phases: 1) Identify, through a quantitative instrument, the attitudinal profiles of normative and non-normative students in engineering; 2) Characterize students’ normative and non-normative identities through in-depth interviews and analysis of differences between students with normative and non-normative identities in engineering; and 3) Drawing from our findings, develop a workshop and set of courses to incorporate diversity topics into engineering programs to enhance the culture of engineering to be more responsive towards, and inclusive of, a diverse range of student identities.
We have completed the first phase of the project in which we quantitatively measured and characterized student groups with normative and non-normative identities in engineering. Our definitions of normative and non-normative for this project are developed through Topological Data Analysis (TDA) of a set of multi-institution survey data (n = 2916). TDA allows identification of groups without imposing a priori hypotheses on how the attitudes of students may group together (nor how they may distinguish between demographic groups). This approach allows the underlying structure of the data to emerge rather than imposing pre-defined definitions of normative attitudes or identities. Our TDA results revealed one group that contains a relatively large number of students (the “normative” group) and a total of seven other distinct, but relatively populated, groups (the “non-normative” groups). We have compiled a summary of the most salient attitudinal constructs in terms of characterizing and distinguishing between all these groups including: motivation (value, goal orientation, future time perspective), engineering and physics identities (performance/competence and recognition beliefs for each), personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, belongingness) and grit (consistency of interest).
We are currently in Phase 2 of our study in which we are conducting a series of qualitative, longitudinal interviews with students selected from normative and non-normative groups to understand how they navigate their engineering experiences and define their educational trajectories over the first two years of college. This data will be deductively analyzed based on our existing attitudinal frameworks as well as inductively coded for emerging themes on how students feel belongingness within engineering culture.
This project promises to move traditional measures of demographic data beyond socially constructed perceptions of others and allows for the representation of student diversity from the perspective of each participant. This more accurate reflection of diversity provides novel insight into the experiences of students who might otherwise be ignored or unjustifiably lumped in with other students with whom they share some demographic indicator and how residing at the intersection of multiple measures of diversity can influence students’ experiences in engineering culture.
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