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Academic and Social Barriers to Black and Latino Male Collegians’ Success in Engineering and Related STEM Fields

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Collection

2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Minority Student Success

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count

14

Page Numbers

23.132.1 - 23.132.14

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/19146

Download Count

103

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Paper Authors

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Terrell Lamont Strayhorn Ohio State University

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Dr. Terrell Strayhorn is Associate Professor of Higher Education at The Ohio State University, where he also serves as Senior Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity, and holds courtesy appointments in Black Studies, Engineering Education, and Sociology. Recipient of a 2008 NSF CAREER Award, Professor Strayhorn studies issues of equity and diversity in education, broadening minority participation in STEM fields, and factors influencing students' learning and development. Author of 6 books, over 75 journal articles, more than 100 conference paper and abstracts, Strayhorn is co-editor of Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men and member of several boards.

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Leroy L. Long III Ohio State University

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Leroy L. Long III earned his master's in Mechanical Engineering at Ohio State University and his bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering at Wright State University. He is now a doctoral student in STEM Education within the School of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State, where he studies topics including but not limited to cognitive development, learning, teaching, and the social contexts within which they occur. He is a Lead Graduate Teaching Associate with the First-Year Engineering Program and continues to work on research projects in the Movement Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He is also currently the Vice President of the OSU American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Student Chapter. His research interests include diversity, inclusion, retention and success with a particular focus on students in STEM fields.

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Joseph A Kitchen Ohio State University

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An Ohio native, Joseph "Joey" Kitchen earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology (minor in International Studies) as well as a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Ohio State University. He is now a doctoral student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program at Ohio State University, working as a graduate research association for Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn’s Research Group for Higher Education Research & Policy (CHERP). His research interests lie at the intersection of diverse higher education experiences, sense of belonging, and the psychological impact of college environments.

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Michael Steven Williams Ohio State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/https://0000-0002-3578-279X

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Currently a Ph.D. student in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Ohio State University, Williams’s research interests center on two aspects of higher education: (1) the student, particularly graduate student socialization and mentoring and (2) the institution, with focus on specialized institutions such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

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Meg E. Stentz Ohio State University

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Meg Stentz is a senior undergraduate English major at The Ohio State University. She is a member of the CHERP research team under the direction of Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, focusing on minority retention in the STEM fields. Stentz also conducts research on literacy identity and gender.

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Abstract

Academic and Social Barriers to Black and Latino Male Collegians’ Success in Engineering and Related STEM FieldsIntroductionIncreasing the number of American college students who complete degrees in science,technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is a compelling national interest, as a decliningnumber of workers appropriately skilled in scientific and technical careers threatens U.S. globalcompetitiveness, potentially reduces national security, and almost ensures continued exportationof highly technical jobs to countries outside the U.S. borders [1]. Even though college anduniversity enrollment rates have increased dramatically over the last thirty years from 11 millionin 1976 to over 18 million in 2006—an increase of 64% in just 3 decades—STEM degreeattainment rates among historically underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities (includes AfricanAmericans (AA), Latinos (LA), and Native Americans, [URMs]) continue to lag behind those ofWhite and Asian Pacific Islander (API) students. For instance, only 24% of URMs complete abachelor’s degree in science and engineering (S&E) within six years of initial enrollmentcompared to 40% of Whites and 50% of Asian students [2].Other national statistics show that many students who enter college intending to major in S&Efields do not graduate or decide to switch to a non-science field [2]-[3]. Accordingly, one-thirdof all college freshmen intend to major in S&E or related fields, with a higher proportion of APIsplanning to study in fields such as social/behavioral sciences and engineering [1]. Approximately50% of all undergraduates (UGs) who express initial intentions to major in STEM, however,switch out of these fields within their first two years of study; URMs are more likely than Whitesand APIs to switch to a non-science major [2]. In response to these trends, scholars have devotedsignificant attention to understanding why some UGs leave STEM fields.Research has shown that, on average, UGs leave STEM fields for academic and social reasons[4]-[5]. Other empirical evidence consistently shows that college student success is influenced, atleast in part, by social and social psychological factors such as support/encouragement, campusclimate, and personal interest in STEM. For example, Seymour conducted a three-year study of330 STEM UGs and concluded that students leave STEM because: (a) they believe that non-STEM careers offer greater intrinsic interest, (b) they lose interest in STEM, or (c) they reject thelifestyle associated with STEM careers [4]. Having support from family, peers, faculty members,and mentors affects academic achievement [8], especially among AA males [9] and URMs inSTEM fields [10]-[11].Despite existing research on the role that academic and social factors play in the success of UGsin general, STEM UGs in particular; few contemporary studies examine the academic and socialexperiences of AA and LA men, majoring in engineering or closely related STEM fields atpredominantly White institutions (PWIs), who are likely to face relatively unique socialchallenges in higher education [12] and sociocultural barriers (e.g., value conflicts betweencollaboration and competition) in engineering [13]. To fill this gap, the present study examinesthe academic and social experiences that challenge AA and LA men using a qualitative,constructivist approach that aims to “give voice” to often unheard and misunderstoodparticipants.PurposeThe purpose of the study was to identify and explore the academic and social experiences thatAA and LA male collegians report as “barriers” to their success in engineering.MethodThis study is part of a larger, longitudinal study titled, Investigating the Critical Junctures:Strategies that Broaden Minority Participation in STEM Fields funded by the National ScienceFoundation (NSF). As such, the study focused on African American and Hispanic studentsmajoring in STEM fields. While the larger study consists of both quantitative and qualitativecomponents, this report is based on interview data only.ParticipantsTo understand the academic and social experiences of AA and LA men in engineering,“information rich” participants were selected using a purposeful sampling approach. Specifically,all participants shared several important characteristics. First, only UGs were recruited asparticipants to eliminate any unforeseen variability in experiences between UG and graduatestudents. Second, all participants had declared a major in engineering or a subfield (e.g.,mechanical), as defined by the National Science Foundation.Participants were recruited using a variety of strategies including electronic announcementsabout the study to eligible participants, college listservs, AA and LA fraternities, as well as theNational Society of Black Engineers. Willing participants were contacted via telephone or emailby the researcher to confirm their participation, review informed consent, and schedule aday/time for the interview.This approach yielded 27 AA and 22 LA male collegians majoring in engineering, whose agesranged from 18 to 24 years. The sample included a range of subfields, hailed from diverse familyenvironments (i.e., single-parent, guardian-led, both parents), and 70% were in-state residents.All of the participants are referred to by their self-selected pseudonym.Data Collection and AnalysisThe primary methods of data collection were semi-structured one-on-one and group interviews.Interviews were conducted in a private room, centrally located on campus, by the researcher.Each interview lasted 90 to 120 minutes. All interviews were digitally recorded and subsequentlytranscribed by a professional.Prior to analysis, transcript data were organized and stored in NVivo®, a qualitative dataanalysis software. Data analysis, in short, proceeded in several stages using the constantcomparison method [14] by reducing a preliminary set of codes into larger themes through aniterative process of reading, categorizing, and comparing categories/codes both within and acrosstranscripts. Several strategies were employed to establish credibility: member checking (i.e.,asking a participant to review his transcript for accuracy and completeness), triangulation of datasources (e.g., interviews, demographic questionnaire), and peer debriefing (i.e., researcher talkedwith a colleague regularly for the purpose of exploring implicit aspects of the study).FindingsDue to space limitations, we offer a brief summary of the study’s results. A full discussion ofresults (including tables and figures) will be included in the final conference paper, if accepted.Three major themes were identified including: (a) “Invisible Man” syndrome, (b) Lack of same-race peers and faculty upon whom students could depend for support, and (c) Difficulty applyingtheory and curriculum to practice, as well as few opportunities to do so in introductoryengineering courses. For example, almost all participants described feeling “invisible” or non-existent in engineering classrooms as they are usually “one of few” URM men, if not “the only,”enrolled in a course. Additionally, participants indicated that they are rarely called upon by nameand many of their comments go unaffirmed by professors; unlike their White and Asian peerswho are encouraged by the professor. Danny offered the following illustration: “It’s hard man.Like I’m in class all by myself as the only Black male. And it’s hard to relate when you don’t seeanyone like you ever. That’s just the beginning because then they can never get my name right.They always call me Dan, Tony, Tyrone…whatever.”Bibliography[1] National Science Board. (2006). Science and engineering indicators 2006 (Two volumes). Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.[2] Center for Institutional Data Exchange and Analysis. (2000). 1999-2000 Science, math, engineering, and technology (SMET) retention report. Norman: University of Oklahoma.[3] Mendez, G., Burkirk, T. D., Lohr, S., & Haag, S. (2008). Factors associated with persistence in science and engineering majors: An exploratory study using classification trees and random forests. Journal of Engineering Education, 97(1), 57-70.[4] Seymour, E. (1992, February). "The Problem Iceberg" in science, mathematics, and engineering education: Student explanations for high attrition rates. Journal of College Science Teaching, 230-238.[5] U. S. Department of Education. (2006). A test of leadership, charting the future of U.S. higher education: A report of the commission appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Washington, DC: Author.[6] Levin, J., & Wyckoff, J. (1991). Predicting persistence and success in baccalaureate engineering. Education, 111(4), 461-468.[7] Zhang, G., Anderson, T., Ohland, M., & Thorndyke, B. (2004). Identifying factors influencing engineering student graduation: A longitudinal and cross-institutional study. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(4), 313-320.[8] Downing, R. A., Crosby, F. J., & Blake-Beard, S. (2005). The perceived importance of developmental relationships on women undergraduates' pursuit of science. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(4), 419-426.[9] Strayhorn, T. L. (2008). The role of supportive relationships in facilitating African American males' success in college. NASPA Journal, 45(1), 26-48.[10] Good, J., Halpin, G., & Halpin, G. (2000). A promising prospect for minority retention: Students becoming peer mentors. Journal of Negro Education, 69(4), 375-383.[11] May, G. S., & Chubin, D. E. (2003). A retrospective on undergraduate engineering success for underrepresented minority students. Journal of Engineering Education, 92(1), 27-39.[12] Cuyjet, M. J. (2006). African American college men: Twenty-first century issues and concerns. In M. J. Cuyjet & Associates (Eds.), African American men in college (pp. 3-23). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.[13] Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.[14] Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1999). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

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