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A Sense of Belonging: Creating a Community for First-generation, Underrepresented groups and Minorities through an Engineering Student Success Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Institutional Capacity and Supportive Structures in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Emily E Liptow California Polytechnic State University

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Emily Liptow is an AmeriCorps VISTA member at California Polytechnic State University. She works with the College of Engineering and the Center for Excellence in STEM (CESAME) on a variety of projects to promote equity in STEM. She recently finished her bachelors of science in Industrial and Systems Engineering at The Ohio State University, where she was also active with many social justice and diversity initiatives.

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Katherine C. Chen California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Dr. Katherine C. Chen is Professor and Chair of the Materials Engineering department at the California Polytechnic (Cal Poly) State University, San Luis Obispo. Her degrees in Materials Science are from Michigan State University and MIT. She teaches a wide variety of different engineering courses and her research interests include diversity in STEM, lifelong learning, and informal education.

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Robin Parent California Polytechnic State University

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Dr. Parent is the Inclusive Excellence Specialist in the Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She draws upon an interdisciplinary background in Anthropology, American Studies, Folklore, Gender Studies, and Education when working with faculty, staff, and students on topics related to inclusivity, diversity, and social justice in the classroom and curriculum.

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Jaclyn Duerr California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Jaclyn Duerr works as a Coordinator for the Multicultural Engineering Program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Teaching experience includes Engineering Student Success and Multicultural Counseling courses. Research interests encompass advocacy, recruitment, retention, and graduation for under-served students in STEM, with a special interest in first generation and transfer student experiences.

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Dylan Henson California Polytechnic State University

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Dylan Henson is a Senior Statistics major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is currently working on his Senior project with Dr. Heather Smith as a consultant for the Statistics department. His academic interests include survey analysis and econometrics.

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Engineering departments across the country are striving to diversify their student bodies, making it increasingly important to attract and support first-generation students. First-generation students—students whose parents do not have four-year degrees—bring ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity to university campuses. They also often face additional academic and social challenges during their transition to college when compared to their peers with parents who graduated from college (Engle, Bermeo, O’Brien, 2006). It is important for engineering departments to provide support for first-generation students during their transition to college while also facilitating a culture that embraces the differences and strengths that these students bring to the field of engineering.

This study investigated the effectiveness of an Engineering Student Success course specifically designed for first-generation engineering students at a large public university. The course met once a week during the first quarter of the students’ freshman year. Students enrolled in this course in addition to a major specific engineering course that all students take their first year. There were three main goals of the course: • to empower students to use their personal strengths and campus resources • to help students understand their chosen engineering disciplines, develop their engineering identities, and become advocates for engineering in their community • to develop a sense of community and belonging with their classmates and within the College of Engineering.

The course curriculum drew upon Carol Dweck’s “growth” mindset, Tara Yosso’s theory of navigational capital, and research on self-efficacy and sense of belonging in engineering education. Examples of interventions used throughout this course include student and corporate panels, personal reflection activities, discussions about social justice and current events within an engineering context, and service learning with K-12 students. Throughout the assignments in this course, there was an emphasis on developmental and reflective practice that is not a main focus in the other introductory engineering course. We evaluated the effectiveness of this course through pre and post surveys, reflections, and focus groups.

Research Questions: • What can we learn from an emphasis on intentional activities and reflective writing to help first-generation students develop an “engineering identity” and ownership over their engineering major? • Does a course focused on relationship building, diversity, and social awareness improve first-generation students’ sense of belonging within the College of Engineering?

These research questions and the data collected through this study will help identify the needs of first-generation engineering students at our university. This course was designed to support first-generation engineering students during their first quarter while also serving as an example of classroom practices that can be adopted across other introductory engineering courses. The data collected from this study will help identify interventions that support first-generation students’ transition from high school to college, especially within an engineering environment. Through serving first-generation students, this course aligns with the institution’s strategic diversity framework, and provides support for cultural change that fosters the success of all students across engineering departments.

Liptow, E. E., & Chen, K. C., & Parent, R., & Duerr, J., & Henson, D. (2016, June), A Sense of Belonging: Creating a Community for First-generation, Underrepresented groups and Minorities through an Engineering Student Success Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26439

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