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Chasing the Holy Grail: Pushing the Academic Persistence of Highly Motivated, Underprepared URM Students Pursuing Engineering

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Developing Quality Experiences that Retain Diverse Engineering Talent

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Jamie Bracey Temple University College of Engineering

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Dr. Bracey provides strategic direction on collaborative STEM education for Temple University's College of Engineering, across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and as a representative to national STEM networks. She serves as the college liaison for outreach, community engagement and policy advocacy to increase diversity in K-20 STEM teaching, learning and research. She also serves a dual role as state director of the Pennsylvania Math, Engineering & Science Achievement (MESA) initiative, a 10-state STEM consortium providing direct services in STEM education, teacher professional development and engineering education.

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Gregory D Jones Jr Temple University

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Gregory Jones is a Civil Engineering senior at Temple University, and the current President of the College of Engineering’s award winning National Society of Black Engineers chapter. Active in student leadership and community outreach, Greg is committed to increasing minority engineering recruitment, retention, and successful career transition in the US and abroad.

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Nadif Bracey Morgan State University

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Nadif Bracey is an Electrical Engineering senior at Morgan State University, Vice President of the Student Government Association, and a member of the MSU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. Active in community outreach, he is also President of SMOOTH, an innovative student organization fostering Black male achievement and collaboration across disciplines, backgrounds and cultures.

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Keyanoush Sadeghipour Temple University

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Keya Sadeghipour is currently a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering and serves as the Dean of the College of Engineering since 2003. He is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Manchester Institute of Technology, UK which is now the University of Manchester. He has been involved in receiving over $7 M funding from various industrial and government sources and has been the principle author of numerous papers in national/international journals and publications. He is a fellow of the ASME and a PEV for the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) as well as member of several national and international organizations.

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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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