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CAREER: Influence of Social Capital on Under-Represented Engineering Students’ Academic and Career Decisions

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.307.1 - 22.307.3



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Paper Authors


Julie Martin Trenor Clemson University

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Julie Martin Trenor, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Engineering and Science Education with a joint appointment in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. Her research interests focus on social factors affecting the recruitment, retention, and career development of under-represented students in engineering. Dr. Trenor is a recent NSF CAREER award winner for her research entitled, “Influence of Social Capital on Under-Represented Engineering Students Academic and Career Decisions.”

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CAREER: Influence of Social Capital on Under-Represented Engineering Students’ Academic and Career DecisionsDespite significant efforts over the last few decades to increase participation of under-represented groups in engineering, progress has been disturbingly slow. The time has come to re-conceptualize our theoretical approach to diversifying the field of engineering. This projectsignificantly advances fundamental knowledge of social interactions that influence under-represented students’ decisions to enter and persist in engineering. The specific goals of this NSFCAREER project are to (1) build a conceptual model for understanding how engineeringundergraduates develop, access and activate social capital in making academic and careerdecisions, (2) identify and characterize the potentially distinct mechanisms by which under-represented students utilize social ties that link them to resources related to engineering studiesand (3) implement an education plan that provides research-to-practice training for universityengineering outreach, recruitment, and retention practitioners using webinars and workshops aslearning forums.The PI is the first to apply the theoretical framework of social capital to explain engineeringstudents’ academic and career choices, building on its extensive literature by researchers in manyother fields. Social capital is defined in this work as “an additional pool of resources embeddedin the social networks of individuals, which can help to achieve individual goals in conjunctionwith, or instead of, personal resources”). The PI’s prior work suggests that students’ decisions toselect engineering as a college major and to persist in undergraduate engineering studies areinfluenced by social capital, and that women, under-represented minorities, and first generationcollege students—the focus of this CAREER research—may utilize different mechanisms fordeveloping, accessing, and activating social capital. These data-driven studies strongly suggestthat a well-developed conceptual model for describing how engineering students utilize socialcapital in making academic and career decisions shows promise as a new paradigm fordiversifying the field.Data will be collected from a diverse sample of engineering undergraduates at six publicinstitutions, representing a variety of student body characteristics, Carnegie 2000 classifications,and locations: California Polytechnic-San Luis Obispo, Clemson University, Colorado School ofMines, North Carolina State University, Tennessee State University, University of Houston andUniversity of Texas-El Paso. The PI will adapt quantitative techniques commonly used by socialscientists for social network mapping and social capital measurement to the specific context ofengineering students’ academic and career decisions. The adapted survey instrument will beadministered to approximately 1,400 students. Group-level patterns in survey data will beidentified using descriptive statistics and cluster analysis. Interviews with at least 60 participantswill deepen understanding of how these patterns relate to individual experience and will form thebasis for development of the conceptual model. This CAREER research has the potential totransform the way engineering education stakeholders undertake efforts to increase participationof under-represented students in engineering.

Trenor, J. M. (2011, June), CAREER: Influence of Social Capital on Under-Represented Engineering Students’ Academic and Career Decisions Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17588

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