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An Exploratory Investigation of the Experiences of Navigating Campus Resources of Black Immigrant Women in Engineering

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 1 - Paper 1: An Exploratory Investigation of the Experiences of Navigating Campus Resources of Black Immigrant Women in Engineering

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Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Debalina Maitra Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Debalina Maitra is a Post-doctoral Research Associate at ASU. Prior to her current role, Debalina Maitra was employed by CAFECS (Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science), a NSF-funded Research Practice Partnership, for almost two years. She completed her Ph.D. in Literacy Education in 2017 with a minor in Qualitative Research Methods. Her research interests are equitable pedagogy, racial equity, culturally relevant pedagogy, and identity. Her latest work at ASU focused on exploring the racial identity of Black engineering students while navigating their professional space and exploring the transition of marginalized students from community college to higher academia and professional fields.

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Brooke Charae Coley Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Brooke Coley, PhD is an Assistant Professor in Engineering at the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Dr. Coley is Principal Investigator of the Shifting Perceptions, Attitudes and Cultures in Engineering (SPACE) Lab that aspires to elevate the experiences of marginalized populations, dismantle systematic injustices, and transform the way inclusion is cultivated in engineering through the implementation of novel technologies and methodologies in engineering education. Intrigued by the intersections of engineering education, mental health and social justice, Dr. Coley’s primary research interest focuses on virtual reality as a tool for developing empathetic and inclusive mindsets among engineering faculty. She is also interested in hidden populations in engineering education and innovation for more inclusive pedagogies.

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Katreena Thomas Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus Orcid 16x16

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Katreena Thomas is a graduate student at Arizona State University in the Engineering Education Systems and Design Doctoral program. She is a member of the Shifting Perceptions, Attitudes, and Cultures in Engineering (SPACE) Lab group and her research interests include broadening participation in engineering, engineering leadership, and experiential learning experiences in engineering. She received her B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and her M.S. in Human Systems Engineering from Arizona State University.

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Meseret F. Hailu Arizona State University

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Dr. Meseret F. Hailu is an Assistant Professor of Higher and Postsecondary Education at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the retention of minoritized women in STEM higher education pathways. Recently, her work has focused on 1) how Black immigrant women in the U.S. persist in engineering, and 2) how higher education institutions in Eastern/Southern Africa conceptualize and implement equity initiatives. Prior to coming to ASU, Dr. Hailu was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at The Ohio State University. Her research has been funded by FHI 360, the Fulbright Program, the National Science Foundation, and the United States Agency for International Development.

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Purpose NSF (2016) reported that Black students received just 6.2 percent of U.S. science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. Whereas Black women only held 2% of science and engineering jobs. This is a significant underrepresentation of gender and race (NSF, 2013). However, the data cited does not differentiate Black women from immigrant backgrounds holding STEM jobs. The generic term of Black identity does not include other cultural and ethnic identities with immigrant background. A specific focus on the Black immigrant women’s college experience appears to be lacking within the literature. While defining the term immigrant, we used the definition provided by the Migration Policy Institute: foreign-born immigrant refers to persons with no U.S. citizenship at birth; they were born outside the United States. And then, the second generation refers to immigrants who are U.S.-born children of immigrants. It’s essential to investigate their college experiences to create a successful and equitable space. The research questions asked for this study are: 1. What are the experiences of utilizing available on-campus services of the Black immigrant women pursuing Engineering? 2. What are the recommendations identified by those students to lessen the gap in needed services and support?

Theoretical Framework Critical race theory (CRT) is the theoretical framework for our study. One of our epistemological assumptions is color blind policies systematically disadvantage people of color and further creates more inequities. Also, critical race theory encouraged us to generate counter-narratives in the form of discussion, archives, and testimonies because it acknowledges that some groups are socially and culturally marginalized, and their marginalized stories based on their experiences could challenge the dominant practices and can bring changes (Delgado and Stefancic, 2001; Villalpando and Bernal, 2002). Our theoretical framework informed the interview protocol, deductive coding, and the findings.

Methodology In this study, we specifically examined the experiences of immigrant women who identified themselves as undergraduate engineering students attending a 4-year public research University located in the South- West of the United States. The data was collected through semi-structured narrative interviews from 10 participants enrolled in engineering programs. The participants first completed a demographic survey. Then we conducted the semi-structured interviews, which were targeted to focus on experiences with departmental culture, campus support, mentoring and faculty interactions, and professional development and future plans to unpack the marginalized experiences of the students. Each interview lasted between 45 minutes to an hour. Participants received $50 as an incentive for participation in the research study. The interviews were audio-recorded with the consent of participants. As a first-cycle analysis, transcripts were coded deductively. For this study, we focused on-campus support, that means we reported data from student recommendations, their experience of utilizing on-campus services, challenges they faced and gaps in needed support. To ensure the accuracy of the data, member checking and intercoder reliability were implemented.

Tentative Findings The research is ongoing, and the results thus far are general and tentative.

Student Experience When exploring students’ experience with on-campus services we found that students valued peer to peer support on campus. For example, they relied on the Black African Coalition, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and other multicultural-biracial support groups. Also, students mentioned professional resources like BLAST, which is Barrett leadership and service team, and fellowships offered through the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology. Then students also nurtured their interests like gardening and wood printing through on-campus clubs during the pandemic. However, most of them reported a lack of peer to staff and faculty relationship. Students also mentioned that interaction with staff and faculty members who identify as one of them is missing in their college experience. Another pertinent theme that emerged from the data was the struggle to find basic information; for example, lack of information about transferring credit to save money and the process of transferring the courses with the degree program. Students reported that they often did not know about essential resources like online tutoring services, mentor programs which should be introduced to them formally from the first day of college. Also, students reported a lack of supports for upper-division engineering classes. Our findings suggested that there is a lack of program-specific academic resources for the students. A major concern also emerged from the data that due to overall negative experiences, some students might not continue their specific degree programs.

Recommendations from Students • Financial worries remained a constant stressor for most of the participants. Students recommended that the department should consider awarding more scholarships. • Under the umbrella of black identity, the clubs also should consider to explore different black identities like Haitian culture, Caribbean culture, African culture. There is no oneness of black identity. • Students recommended providing an easy access guide to scholarships and other resources available to them. • Students also suggested connecting the mentorship path with women engineering professors and postdocs of color from the freshman year to build a robust mentor-mentee network within the engineering school. • Tracking students if they are staying in their major after completion of degree and then revise the specific degree program based on their suggestions. • Students recommended detailed talk on cultural appropriation and gender inequity. One student said, “because women honestly do not understand what they are protected under”. • Our participants conveyed an immediate need to hire more black administrators and to invite more women of color at the career fair.

Significance This paper will hopefully create dialogues around the experiences of Black immigrant women in engineering, and their voice will reach the policymakers and educators nationally so that they are better supported in their programs. This paper also aims to identify the gaps in needed support and services directly from the students. Recommendations from the students are the stepping stone to re-evaluate the student need at the departmental and institutional level. Also, we believe some of our findings might have implications for other marginalized groups. To this end, this paper connects to the conference theme of understanding inclusion, equity, access, and diversity to broaden participation focused on the issues such as intersectionality of race and gender.

Maitra, D., & Coley, B. C., & Thomas, K., & Hailu, M. F. (2022, February), An Exploratory Investigation of the Experiences of Navigating Campus Resources of Black Immigrant Women in Engineering Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/1-2--39101

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2022 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015