June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
Latinx Persistence In and Beyond the Degree: Intersections of Gender and Ethnicity
The rates at which Latinx students choose, graduate from, and persist in engineering degrees/careers is low compared to White students. While graduation rates for Latinx students have increased in the last twenty years (NSF, 2017), a substantial amount of degree holders --almost half --do not enter engineering occupations (NSF, 2010).
To understand Latinx persistence, an ethnographic study that draws on a sociocultural theoretical framework (Gee, 2001; Holland, Lachiotte, Skinner & Cain, 1998) seeks to identify the successes, struggles, and challenges of undergraduate engineering Latinx students who are in their senior capstone course and transitioning into the workforce and/or graduate studies. In the broader study, we focus on teamwork to understand the ways it can promote students’ sense of belonging (Danielak et al., 2014; Gilbuena et al. 2015) or, alternatively, their social isolation (Foor et al., 2007). In this paper, we focus on how intersecting factors (ethnicity and gender) mediated students’ sense of belonging in teams, and by extension, in engineering studies. We are particularly interested in the teamwork experiences of Latinas, whose participation in engineering is at the intersection of these factors (Ong, et al., 2011; Lord et al. 2009).
Set in a minority institution with 80% Latinx student population, “Border University (BU)” the institution in which this study is set, is located in a US-Mexico border city. The university serves and enrolls the local, mostly bilingual community. Spanish use is very frequent in all contexts even though English is used in the educational context of the university.
We collected four primary sources of ethnographic data: questionnaires, participant observation (160+ hours), artifacts, and in-depth interviews. Latinx students in two majors, Computer Science (CS) and Mechanical Engineering (ME) participated. In the study’s first year, three teams (N=19) of MS and CS students participated. For this paper, we focus on two, mixed-gender ME teams in order to contrast their ideologies of language (an indicator of ethnic belonging) and gender-inclusive practices.
We found that the two teams contrasted in terms of their language ideologies, even both were composed of Latinx students. One team expressed beliefs that belied an appreciation of Spanish because of its potential to signal belonging among engineering students at BU (“we are all Mexicans; this is our language”). At the same time, that team used both languages freely and dynamically as part of their normal academic and non-academic interactions. A second team used solely English in their interactions, which was accompanied by veiled disparaging remarks about the Mexican city on the other side of the border.
Moreover, the second team’s ideologies about language were accompanied by limited participation of its female members. Two bilingual, transnational Latinas in the second team were assigned menial, non-engineering-related tasks such as preparing a PowerPoint presentation. In contrast, the first team’s inclusive perspective on Mexican and Mexican Americans, was accompanied by gender-inclusive practices. Its de facto team leader was, in fact, a transnational Latina who often freely mixed languages during the senior design process.
In sum, for Latinx students in this setting, both gender and ethnic group belonging are critical factors in constructing a sense of belonging in teams. Further investigation will continue to investigate how gender-inclusive practices intersect with a sense of belonging as signaled through language use among other ME and CS teams.
Esquinca, A., & Herrera-Rocha, L. (2019, June), Board 90: Latinx Persistence In and Beyond the Degree: Intersections of Gender and Ethnicity (Research) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32458
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