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Board 143: EAGER: Broadening Participation of First-generation College Students in Engineering – Backgrounds, Experiences and Strategies for Success

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Jessica Mary Smith Colorado School of Mines

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Jessica M. Smith is Associate Professor in the Engineering, Design & Society Division at the Colorado School of Mines and Co-Director of Humanitarian Engineering. She is an anthropologist with two major research areas: 1) the sociocultural dynamics of extractive and energy industries, with a focus on corporate social responsibility, social justice, labor, and gender and 2) engineering education, with a focus on socioeconomic class and social responsibility. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the intersection of engineering and corporate social responsibility. She is the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2014), which was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2016 the National Academy of Engineering recognized her Corporate Social Responsibility course as a national exemplar in teaching engineering ethics. Professor Smith holds a PhD in Anthropology and a certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degrees in International Studies, Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Macalester College.

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Dina Verdin Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Dina Verdín is a Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Education and M.S. student in Industrial Engineering at Purdue University. She completed her B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering at San José State University. Dina is a 2016 recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship and an Honorable Mention for the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program. Her research interest focuses on changing the deficit base perspective of first-generation college students by providing asset-based approaches to understanding this population. Dina is interested in understanding how first-generation college students author their identities as engineers and negotiate their multiple identities in the current culture of engineering.

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Juan C. Lucena Colorado School of Mines

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Juan Lucena is Professor and Director of Humanitarian Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). Juan obtained a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech and a MS in STS and BS in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His books include Defending the Nation: U.S. Policymaking to Create Scientists and Engineers from Sputnik to the ‘War Against Terrorism’ (University Press of America, 2005), Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (Morgan &Claypool, 2010), and Engineering Education for Social Justice: Critical Explorations and Opportunities (Springer, 2013).

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First-generation college students have entered the spotlight of educational research and reform. This shift in perspective has been covered in popular media, for example, in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s series entitled “Engine of Inequality,” which analyzes the challenges facing first-generation college students. However, engineering programs have been slower in responding to this new emphasis on first-generation college students, perhaps assuming that the lack of success of underrepresented groups is a result of deficiencies in the students’ background and preparation. Our research challenges this assumption by explicitly investigating the connections between first-generation engineering students’ success and their experiences within higher education, using a large-scale quantitative survey. Whereas the deficiency perspective focuses on what these students lack and how they need to change themselves in order to adapt to engineering undergraduate curricula, this study seeks to understand how first-generation college student’s funds of knowledge (i.e., family and cultural knowledge developed by growing up in poor and/or working households) can be leveraged in their engineering work and the factors that contribute to their success in engineering.

This poster will present: 1) an overview of the funds of knowledge constructs used in the survey, 2) the preliminary results from a pilot survey, and 3) an overview of all the survey questions, including engineering identity, agency, belongingness, institutional support, grit, sources of recognition, and certainty of career path.

Using ethnographic data of first-generation college students in engineering, from prior work, seven themes were created to capture aspects of students’ funds of knowledge. The themes were classified as follows: community networks, lived experiences, tinkering knowledge from home, tinkering knowledge from work, perspective taking, reading people, and translation among people. To date, the funds of knowledge themes have been validated, at the first level, using exploratory factor analysis with a broad range of engineering students from first-years to fourth-year of higher at two institutions, one in the Midwest and one in the mountain region. Convenience sampling was used to test and validate the funds of knowledge survey constructs. We are currently in our second data collection process. The large-scale survey will be administered to upperclassman and alumni at five participating institutions across the United States, i.e., in a large public polytechnic, small selective private polytechnic, large land grant, large sub-urban public, and large public universities.

Smith, J. M., & Verdin, D., & Lucena, J. C. (2019, June), Board 143: EAGER: Broadening Participation of First-generation College Students in Engineering – Backgrounds, Experiences and Strategies for Success Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32258

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