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Beliefs and Behaviors of First-generation and Low-income Students in Early Engineering Courses

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

First-Generation Track - Technical Session IV

Tagged Topics

Diversity and First Generation

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Blue Miami University

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Jennifer Blue is an Associate Professor of Physics at Miami University. She works to give more people access to physics. Sometimes that’s reforming the curriculum for introductory classes, sometimes it's working with K-12 science teachers, and sometimes it’s advocating for traditionally excluded populations, including women in STEM. Her website can be found here:

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Brielle Johnson Miami University

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Brielle Johnson is a graduate student in the Social Psychology program of the Department of Psychology at Miami University. She earned her B.S. from Grand Valley State University with a double major in Psychology and Sociology. Her research interests include issues related to social class, as well as areas of existential psychology and counterfactual thinking.

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Amy Summerville Miami University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Summerville is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Miami University. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Summerville is a social psychologist whose research examines how thoughts of "what might have been" affect emotion, motivation, and behavior. She is the PI of a grant from NSF's EEC division investigating new interventions in engineering education that utilize social cognitive psychology.

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Brian P. Kirkmeyer Miami University

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Brian Kirkmeyer is the Karen Buchwald Wright Senior Assistant Dean for Student Success and Instructor in the College of Engineering and Computing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His background includes B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Materials Science and Engineering (specialization in polymers), the former from Purdue University and the latter two from the University of Pennsylvania. He had work experiences in automotive electronics (Delphi Automotive Systems) and consumer products (International Flavors and Fragrances) prior to his current role. He has served on the executive committee of the ASEE Women in Engineering division from 2010 to present.

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First-generation college students and students from low-income families face a unique set of challenges in navigating the college experience. In addition to external obstacles, these students may also approach courses with a different internal landscape of beliefs about their ability to succeed in class. In the current research, we examined the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of first-generation and low-income students in prerequisite and introductory engineering courses.

236 declared or intended engineering majors in prerequisite or introductory classes required for the majority of engineering majors completed an initial survey in which they reported demographic information, their beliefs that intelligence is a stable and unchangeable trait (“entity theory”), their perceptions of their ability to succeed in the class, whether their career goals focused on working with and helping others and/or on individual achievement (“communal goals” and “agentic goals”, respectively) and their beliefs that the course was relevant to their intended future career. Students who completed this survey were invited to participate in additional surveys that assessed their thoughts and feelings about the first exam and their continued ability to succeed in the course, as well as their study behaviors in the course. Students reported their grade on the first exam and provided permission for their instructor to release their final course grade.

Students were classified as first-generation if they did not have a parent who had completed a B.A (16.6% of the sample). Students were classified as low-income if they reported that their annual family income was under $50,000 (17.2% of the sample).

In the initial survey, comparing first-generation to non-first-generation and low-income to middle and high income students indicated that both groups of students began the semester with the same beliefs as their peers. The groups did not differ in their endorsement of entity theories, their beliefs about whether they can pass the course, their agentic or communal career goals and whether the course was relevant to their career goals.

Preliminary data from 72 students indicates that compared to their peers, both first-generation and low-income students performed the same on the first exam and in the course overall and had the same beliefs they could succeed in the course after the first exam. However, both groups were more likely than their peers to report thinking about how the first exam could have gone worse; low-income students (but not first-generation) reported being more focused how they should have done things differently on the first exam. Additionally, first-generation students were more likely to report using the online discussion forum in the course, doing practice problems, and reviewing their own notes. Low-income students were less likely to report taking notes in class, participating in a study group with peers, and using the online discussion forum for the class.

First-generation and low-income students thus largely begin early courses with the same attitudes and beliefs as their peers, but to have somewhat different experiences in these courses.

Blue, J., & Johnson, B., & Summerville, A., & Kirkmeyer, B. P. (2018, April), Beliefs and Behaviors of First-generation and Low-income Students in Early Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia.

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: © 2018 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