June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Minorities in Engineering
13.83.1 - 13.83.7
A Preliminary Analysis of Factors Affecting the Persistence of African-American Females in Engineering Degree Programs
This paper describes a mixed-method study designed to identify and characterize factors that contribute to the persistence and attrition of African-American females in undergraduate engineering and technology degree programs. A preliminary analysis of survey data from the first phase of the study is provided examining engineering persistence. Using the Student Persistence Instrument, data was collected from 130 African-American students (49% females) currently in their third year or beyond in an undergraduate engineering degree program. The factors examined include initial commitment and high school preparation for studying engineering, confidence in completing current degree program, impact of course workload and institutional climate, and academic and financial variables.
There is continued concern for the recruitment and retention of females and minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This issue is particularly acute for engineering and technology disciplines and may have more intense consequences for females of color. Institutions ranging from community colleges to research intensive universities have undertaken activities to enhance the recruitment and retention of females and students of color in engineering and technical degree programs. Despite increases in baccalaureate degree production in engineering and computer science for women and students of color, their overall representation is still quite low1. A recent National Science Foundation (NSF) report indicated the percentage of women receiving baccalaureate degrees in engineering and computer science in 2002 was 21% and 27% respectively2. That same year, Blacks earned less than 5% of the baccalaureate degrees awarded in engineering and roughly 10% in Computer Science2. Consequentially, the number of women and minorities entering the engineering and technology workforce is limited. As the US workforce becomes more diverse, increasing the participation of US citizens that are typically underrepresented in STEM disciplines is essential to the vitality of the country’s future workforce. The National Science Foundation and the National Science Board have issued strong warnings regarding the loss of U.S. dominance in critical areas of science and innovation3. Additionally, the Department of Labor projects Information Technology (IT) job growth will exceed IT degree production for the current decade3.
Current recruitment and retention efforts in STEM fields, particularly engineering and technology, must be examined with regard to their effectiveness on specific student populations so that successful strategies can be expanded and replicated. A number of strategies have been employed to recruit and retain females and minorities in engineering and technology degree programs including innovative classroom pedagogies aimed at making course content and curricula more attractive to students, summer bridge programs, mentoring programs, tutoring programs, and scholarships. An examination of the current body of engineering education literature reveals limited data on the experiences of African-American females in engineering and technology degree programs and the effect of retention activities designed to increase their
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