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Board 122: Work in Progress: Identity and Positioning of International Students in Sociotechnical Discussions

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division (LIBED) Poster Session

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Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division (LEES)

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Jingshu Meng

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Hannah Norton


Chelsea Andrews Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Chelsea Andrews is a Research Assistant Professor at Tufts University, at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO).

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Concerns about technocentric undergraduate engineering courses have now become widely disseminated. As a result, universities are diligently working to include more sociotechnical content in formerly purely-technical courses, with the goal of engaging students in recognizing and analyzing the economic, political, and social impacts of technology. In the U.S., many of the focus topics for this sociotechnical content are grounded in a U.S. context, requiring an understanding of the history and current state of racial and economic power structures. While U.S. residents are likely familiar with these structures, it is important to consider how these topics are encountered by international students.

This case study on international student experience is part of a larger NSF-funded research project exploring integrating sociotechnical topics in a first-year engineering computing course. The revised course included weekly readings followed by small-group discussions on curriculum-aligned real-world justice topics.

This work in progress study analyzes post-course student interviews of six international students of color to understand their experiences in this course. We use a qualitative case study approach to analyze these interviews, drawing heavily from work in identity (e.g., Berhane, Secules, & Onuma, 2020), being careful to take an intersectional lens (e.g., Ross, Capobianco, & Godwin, 2017). We draw heavily from the emergent framework of Learning Race in the U.S. Context (Fries-Britt, Mwangi, & Peralta, 2014). We focus on the unique challenges for international students as they navigate justice discourse in the U.S. context.

Our examination of international student interviews illuminated conflicts between international students’ self-identity and what they felt they were expected to know and have experienced. Most first-year international students of color reported strong identities as international students and did not identify as strongly with their racial/ethnic groups. They felt they were lacking U.S. racial context, including both knowledge of the history of U.S. racial relations and lived experiences within these systems. At the same time, there is evidence that other students in the classes positioned the international students of color as experts in racial relations in the U.S., looking to them to share personal experiences or for approval of what other students were sharing. Without essentializing these particular international students’ experiences, we hope to draw attention to the social dynamics encountered during sociotechnical lessons and the potential for marginalization of the international student population.

Meng, J., & Norton, H., & Andrews, C. (2023, June), Board 122: Work in Progress: Identity and Positioning of International Students in Sociotechnical Discussions Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--42426

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