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Classroom Practices that Support Minoritized Engineering Students’ Sense of Belonging (Research)

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

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Minorities in Engineering

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Arielle Marie Rainey Colorado School of Mines

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Arielle Rainey graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in May 2020 with a Bachelor's in Environmental Engineering and is currently pursuing a Master's in Humanitarian Engineering at the same university. Her research focuses on belongingness, funds of knowledge, and engineering identity and how these factors vary among different demographics of first-generation college students.

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Dina Verdin Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus Orcid 16x16

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Dina Verdín, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. She graduated from San José State University with a BS in Industrial Systems Engineering and from Purdue University with an MS in Industrial Engineering and PhD in Engineering Education. 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 and negotiate their multiple identities in the current culture of engineering. Dina has won several awards including the 2018 ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference Best Diversity Paper Award, 2019 College of Engineering Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award and the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) Distinguished Scholar Award. Dina's dissertation proposal was selected as part of the top 3 in the 2018 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division D In-Progress Research Gala.

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Jessica Mary Smith Colorado School of Mines

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Jessica M. Smith is Associate Professor in the Engineering, Design & Society Division at the Colorado School of Mines and Director of Humanitarian Engineering Graduate Programs. Her research and teaching bring anthropological perspectives to bear on questions of social responsibility and engineering. In 2016 the National Academy of Engineering recognized her Corporate Social Responsibility course as a national exemplar in teaching engineering ethics. Her book Extracting Accountability: Engineers and Corporate Social Responsibility will be published by The MIT Press in 2021. She is also the co-editor of Energy and Ethics? (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019) and the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2014). She regularly publishes in peer-reviewed journals in anthropology, science and technology studies, engineering studies, and engineering education. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the British Academy.

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Establishing and sustaining a sense of belonging is a necessary human motivation with particular implications for student learning, including in engineering. Students who experience a sense of belonging are more likely to display intrinsic motivation and establish a stronger sense of identity and persistence. It is important, however, to distinguish different domains of belonging, such as belonging to one’s university, belonging to a major, and belonging in the classroom setting. Our study examines if and how faculty support efforts contribute to diverse students’ sense of belonging in the classroom setting. Specifically, we sought to answer the following research questions:

Which faculty support efforts promote a sense of classroom belongingness?

Do faculty support efforts differentially promote a sense of classroom belongingness for students based on their demographic characteristics?

Data for this study were collected in the Fall of 2018, across ten institutions, n = 819. We used the Faculty Academic Support items from the STEM Student Perspectives of Support Instrument developed from Lee’s model of co-curricular support to answer our research questions. Demographic categories were created to understand if and how faculty support efforts differentially promote a sense of belonging for minoritized students compared to their counterparts. Students were divided into the following demographic groups: minoritized women (excluding White and Asian; 14%), minoritized men (excluding White and Asian; 23%), majoritized women and men (i.e., White and Asian 32% and 31%, respectively), and first-generation college students (46%). The term minoritized is used to acknowledge the ongoing social experiences of marginalization, even when groups subject to racial-ethnic discrimination achieve a numerical majority in the population.

Multiple regression analysis was conducted to examine the faculty support factors that fostered a sense of belonging in the classroom. Interaction effects were included to understand how faculty support efforts affected classroom belongingness for the students in the demographic groups we identified.

We briefly summarize a portion of our findings. Minoritized women were less likely to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom when compared to majoritized men. Neither group of women believed that their instructors wanted them to succeed, thus negatively impacting their classroom belongingness. There were, however, faculty support efforts that positively contributed to a sense of belonging in the classroom for minoritized women, including instructors’ availability, knowing that they could ask instructors for help in course-related material, and when instructors fostered an atmosphere of mutual respect. Additionally, minoritized women felt a sense of classroom belonging when they could capitalize on their previous experiences to scaffold their learning.

While the survey data point to concerns related to women engineering students’ perceptions of faculty and their own sense of classroom belonging, our findings also highlight classroom practices and strategies faculty can use in the classroom to support minoritized women’s sense of belonging. These practices and strategies will be a crucial resource for engineering educators and administrators who seek to improve the field’s retention of minoritized and women students. Whereas efforts have been made to recruit minoritized students into engineering, our study points to a clear and crucial role for faculty to play: they can support minoritized students by fostering a sense of belonging in engineering classrooms.

Rainey, A. M., & Verdin, D., & Smith, J. M. (2021, July), Classroom Practices that Support Minoritized Engineering Students’ Sense of Belonging (Research) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36797

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