Asee peer logo

Board 51: An Initial Step Toward Measuring First-Generation College Students’ Personal Agency: A Scale Validation

Download Paper |


2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Educational Research and Methods Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


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

visit author page

Dina Verdín is a Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Education at Purdue University. She completed her M.S. in Industrial Engineering at Purdue University and 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, use their agency to (re)create their multiple identities in the current culture of engineering.

visit author page


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

visit author page

Allison Godwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development. Dr. Godwin graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education. Her research earned her a National Science Foundation CAREER Award focused on characterizing latent diversity, which includes diverse attitudes, mindsets, and approaches to learning, to understand engineering students’ identity development. She has won several awards for her research including the 2016 American Society of Engineering Education Educational Research and Methods Division Best Paper Award and the 2018 Benjamin J. Dasher Best Paper Award for the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. She has also been recognized for the synergy of research and teaching as an invited participant of the 2016 National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium and the Purdue University 2018 recipient of School of Engineering Education Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the 2018 College of Engineering Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This research paper describes the development of a scale to measure how first-generation college students use engineering as a tool for making a difference in their community and world or personal agency. Personal agency is a capability that every individual holds; it is described by Bandura as an individual’s beliefs about their capabilities to exercise control over events that affect their lives through purposeful and reflective actions. Agentic actions allow students to explore, maneuver and impact their environment for the achievement of a goal or set of goals. This study identifies how cognitive processes of forethought, intention, reactivity, and reflection shape a students’ agentic behavior and together influence first-generation college students’ goal of making a difference in their community through their engineering degree.

Data for this study came from a large-scale survey of 3,711 first-year engineering students. First, the personal agency scale was tested for validity evidence using a split-half sampling technique. Exploratory factor analysis was conducted on one half, and confirmatory factor analysis was conducted on the other half. The exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis showed that the scale to measure personal agency is valid and reliable for the first-generation college student population.

The results of this work situate first-generation college students in engineering as active contributors to their environment. This study is an initial step in examining how first-generation college students are active producers of their own lives and not passive recipients of their life’s circumstances. Personal agency can be used as a lens to understand how underrepresented students in engineering are empowered to act upon their world to (re)shape it. This theoretical framing and measurement support asset-based approaches to understanding a community of students who are often deficit theorized.

Verdin, D., & Godwin, A. (2019, June), Board 51: An Initial Step Toward Measuring First-Generation College Students’ Personal Agency: A Scale Validation Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32367

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: © 2019 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