June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Minorities in Engineering
The underrepresentation of women and underrepresented minorities (URM, def. non-White, non-Asian) in engineering undergraduate programs can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including, but not limited to, insufficient preparation and barriers in recruiting into engineering programs at the K-12 level, low self-efficacy, lack of peer support, inadequate academic advising or faculty support, harmful stereotypes of particular groups that influence interactions in classrooms or in peer groups, and a chilly or unappealing climate [1-9]. The contribution of each of these potential factors to issues of diversity and inclusion differs by institution and, frequently, within each institution due to the presence of microclimates across specific academic units and disciplines [10, 11].
Given potential granularity of the problem within and across institutions, it is important for faculty and administrators to assess issues of diversity and inclusion as proximal as possible to their own academic units, while simultaneously taking a sufficiently wide lens on the issues in order to avoid selection bias and confidentiality concerns . Previous institutional research on underrepresentation in engineering utilized either a “tight lens” via focus group and one-on-one interviews [2, 14] or a “wide lens” through surveys [5, 6]. Taken together, these studies have identified the primary drivers of underrepresentation within the engineering discipline [1,3]; however, they do not necessarily present a methodological framework for investigating issues at the institution level. Specifically, the question of “lens” – that is, whom you study and how – has yet to be addressed within the literature. The goal of this study is thus to compare common “themes” in diversity [1-9] that arise through focus group (“tight lens”) and survey (“wide lens”) methodologies within a single engineering undergraduate population. These data will aid in the interpretation of past and future ethnographic research on diversity and inclusion within engineering, specifically as it relates to the concordance of these two commonly used research methodologies.
“Tight” and “wide lens” methodologies were applied to the same undergraduate engineering student population at a single institution. The “tight lens” approach involved multiple focus groups disaggregated by gender, race, and engineering discipline and has been previously reported . Focus group prompts were generated from the literature [1,3] and included high school preparation, interactions with peers, interactions with faculty and staff, program supports, and family support. Focus group interviews were recorded, transcribed, and subjected to thematic analysis (NVivo, v10, QSR International). The “wide lens” approach involved administration of a voluntary survey to the entire undergraduate student body (Qualtrics, Aug 2018, Provo, UT), with question prompts aligned with the five aforementioned themes and drawn from validated survey instruments whenever possible [13-15]. Survey responses were compared by gender (male, female) and race (URM or majority) using one-way ANOVA with post-hoc adjustment.
A total of 12 focus groups were recruited (n=63 students total), and the survey response rate was 10% (n=246). Survey respondents were demographically representative of the at-large population, while underrepresented and women students were oversampled in the focus groups. As previously reported , the focus group study highlighted disparities between majority (white or Asian male) and underrepresented (women, URM) students across several themes. Specifically, women and URMs reported being the target of peer micro-aggressions, and URMs experienced clear micro-aggressions from faculty members. Although students were asked directly in the broader survey if they experienced micro-aggressions or overt discrimination from peers or faculty, women and URMs did not report higher incidence of experiencing micro-aggressions, although both underrepresented and majority populations were aware of micro-aggressions against others. Both women and minorities were more hesitant than majority peers to approach a faculty member for help if they were struggling with course material (p<0.05, both groups, effect size: 0.44 and 0.49 for women and URM, respectively, on 7-pt Likert). Women, but not URMs, rated themselves lower in terms of science, engineering, and problem solving self-efficacy as compared to their majority peers (p<0.01 all measures, effect sizes 0.35-0.59 on 5-pt Likert).
Comparing the results of our two study methodologies, we see distinct “themes” that emerge from the “tight lens” focus group approach versus the “wide lens” survey. Micro-aggressions against women and URMs were highlighted clearly in the focus group results. While consistent with the literature [5,6], the prevalence of micro-aggressions may have been overstated when compared to the broader survey results, which showed awareness of micro-aggressions against others but not against self in both underrepresented and majority populations. The survey results also highlighted deficiencies in self-efficacy for women students that are again highly consistent with the literature [5,6] but not emergent from the focus group data.
Taken together, these results suggest that the “lens” – that is, the methodological approach – does impact principal study findings, even from the same undergraduate population. Given that the findings of our study were used to drive strategic planning for diversity and inclusion efforts at our institution, we caution against relying on a single methodology – however consistent your findings are with the literature – to set your course of action. We most strongly advise a mixed methodological approach consisting of both “tight” and “wide lens” views of the issues.
Trauth, A., & Buckley, J., & Rooney, S. I., & Enszer, J. A., & Barnes, T. N., & Davidson, R. (2019, June), Adjusting the Lens: Comparison of Focus Group and Survey Data in Identifying and Addressing Issues of Diversity and Inclusion in Undergraduate Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32041
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