New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Minorities in Engineering
This work in progress research paper uses psychological theories to examine what motivates STEM students to persist. Social cognitive career theory, grit and self-determination theory are used to explore minority undergraduate engineering students’ self-efficacy, goal orientation and perception of institutional culture as they pursue engineering degrees. These non-cognitive factors offer insight into responses to academic interventions designed to close the gap in preparation for cultural and linguistic minorities entering a large urban university’s College of Engineering. The institution has quadrupled in size and diversity over the past decade, but its retention and graduation outcomes mirror national struggles to produce more baccalaureate degrees in less than six years. The rigor and culture shock of an engineering course sequence has yielded an attrition rate of nearly 50% by the end of the 2nd year.
A preliminary assessment examined quantitative data and motivational surveys of 507 freshman and transfer students, of whom 21% were women, and 14% ethnic minorities. Evidence-based practices examine how the current popularity of STEM careers is reflected in the self-reported grit and determination of mathematically underprepared minority students to achieve their engineering career goals, with the appropriate cognitive supports. While 86% of students reported very strong self-efficacy (belief) in their ability to study engineering, 36% tested below Calculus I, only 35% had ever been exposed to a pre-engineering course, less than 33% had a family member in the field, and only 5% had ever had an industry mentor to introduce them to the profession.
To test the hypothesis that non-cognitive factors mediate minority academic persistence, a descriptive and regression analysis was completed and yielded no discernible differences on math placement scores, SAT Math scores and math GPA based on gender. However, significant differences existed based on ethnicity and incoming status. African-Americans had the lowest average SAT, and freshmen had higher SAT scores (M=570 vs. M=533) and higher first semester GPAs than transfer students.
Engineering students identified as most “at risk” for mathematics (bottom 20%) participated in a newly designed applied engineering math course and achieved statistically significant improvement. Equally important, a 10% drop in attrition occurred among all 1st year students, with minority students showing the largest gains. Post assessment surveys will be shared that show contextual factors, including type of institution (predominately white, historically black and/or minority serving) impact minority students’ identity formation, academic performance and motivation to persist.
Bracey, J., & Jones, G. D., & Bracey, N., & Sadeghipour, K. (2016, June), Chasing the Holy Grail: Pushing the Academic Persistence of Highly Motivated, Underprepared URM Students Pursuing Engineering Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26489
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