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“Blessing in Disguise”: Understanding the Racialized and Gendered Experience of a Black Woman’s Pathway in Engineering

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Endeavors: Engineering, Art and Society

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

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Brianna Benedict McIntyre Purdue University

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Brianna Benedict is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science in Industrial and Systems Engineering from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Her research focuses on understanding how hybrid spaces influence engineering students’ identity development, belonging, and agency in interdisciplinary engineering education. She co-leads the CDEI virtual workshop team focused on building a community of educators passionate about expanding their knowledge concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering education. Her most recent accomplishment was being recognized as one of seven AAC&U 2019 K. Patricia Cross Scholars based on her commitment to teaching and learning and civic engagement.

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This research paper examines the experience of a Black woman pursuing engineering through an interdisciplinary engineering program. To illustrate the importance of providing context when situating research, I will share my positionality as a Black woman in engineering to demonstrate how context matters and how identity salience shifts throughout time and space. This research practice may help others understand how the Black woman’s experience is not a monolith and how there is a need to understand the nuances of students’ engineering identity, multiple social identities, and institutional structure.

As the nature of engineering work explicitly calls for interdisciplinary practices, interdisciplinary fields and programs emerge throughout engineering education to support the growing demand. Although interdisciplinarity is a critical approach to solving complex problems and is discussed deeply in graduate education, interdisciplinary learning has not been highly reflected or cultivated in engineering education curricula. This lack of acknowledgment may be attributed to the historical exclusion of interdisciplinary ways of being and thinking across the disciplines, limiting how students see themselves as engineers. However, through the development of interdisciplinary engineering programs, we may establish improved understandings of how students form their identities as interdisciplinary engineers, especially as the varied approaches to programmatic structures emerge.

This study’s data comes from a more extensive qualitative investigation focused on exploring the nature of an interdisciplinary engineering program to understand how the program functions as a hybrid space for undergraduate engineering students and influences students’ identity development, belonging, and agency in engineering. For the more extensive study, I interviewed faculty (n=7), students (n=13), and staff (n=1). However, this paper aims to center the voice of one Black woman studying interdisciplinary engineering. I used a structure and agency perspective to examine Simone’s experiences to understand how she defined her identity and established a sense of belonging as a Black woman in engineering by navigating through multiple disciplines within and outside the engineering college. Through Simone’s account, we can see how underrepresented students may feel invisible in traditional engineering spaces and attribute a sense of belonging with being trusted as a knowledgeable person. Although Simone acknowledged how she did not feel invisible in the interdisciplinary engineering, she actively chose to remain at the peripheral of the program. This work provides insight into how it is essential to be conscious of students’ experiences in and within the interdisciplinary engineering program.

McIntyre, B. B. (2021, July), “Blessing in Disguise”: Understanding the Racialized and Gendered Experience of a Black Woman’s Pathway in Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36530

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