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Barriers to Persistence for Engineering Students with Disabilities

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Action on Diversity - Disability Experiences & Empathy

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Yvette Pearson Weatherton Rice University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Yvette Pearson Weatherton holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering and M.S. in Chemistry from Southern University and A&M College and a Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from the University of New Orleans. She is Associate Dean for Accreditation and Assessment in the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, a Program Evaluator (PEV) for the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of ABET, a registered Professional Engineer in Louisiana, a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a member of ASCE's Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and a former Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) at the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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Renae Danielle Mayes Ball State University

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Renae D. Mayes, PhD, NCC is an assistant professor and director of the School Counseling Program in the Department of Educational Psychology. She completed her PhD in counselor education at The Ohio State University, after completing degrees at the University of Maryland, College Park (MEd in school counseling) and University of Missouri (BS in middle school math and social studies education). Mayes’s line of research focuses on students of color in the k-16 pipeline in three areas including gifted education, special education, and urban education.

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Carol Villanueva-Perez Ball State University

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Undergraduate student retention is dependent not only on academic aptitude, but also on non-academic factors, which include the ability to integrate fully into their academic environments.  Non-academic factors are likely to more significantly impact the success of students with disabilities compared to their peers who do not have disabilities, especially within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and engineering in particular.   These include systemic as well as personal barriers.

An institution’s culture and climate are among several systemic barriers that exist to impede successful matriculation of students with disabilities, particularly in engineering.   Researchers have found engineering and law faculty members “were significantly less willing to provide accommodations” than their counterparts in other academic units.  Reluctance and negative attitudes serve to foster environments that are counter to diversity and inclusion.

Studies have shown that incorrect estimates of self-efficacy are among personal barriers that hinder student success.  Some students with disabilities tend to have lower academic self-efficacy than students without a disability, and those with the highest IQs appear to have the lowest perceptions of academic self-efficacy, perhaps because they are more aware of their weaknesses.  Other students with disabilities appear instead to have unrealistically positive beliefs about their own capabilities.  In some cases this may result in students not requesting needed accommodations, though this may result from other factors such as fear of stigmas associated with disability as well.   

In this paper, we present a review of literature pertaining to systemic and personal barriers to success for students with disabilities in engineering.  We conclude with a summary of promising practices for overcoming those barriers and needs for additional research.

Pearson Weatherton, Y., & Mayes, R. D., & Villanueva-Perez, C. (2017, June), Barriers to Persistence for Engineering Students with Disabilities Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27650

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