New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Minorities in Engineering
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.
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