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Critical Analyses of Representation and Success Rates of Marginalized Undergraduate Students in Aerospace Engineering

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

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July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Personnel Development & Retention

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Corin L. Bowen University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Corin (Corey) Bowen is a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology at California State University - Los Angeles, where she is working on the NSF-funded Eco-STEM project. Her engineering education research focuses on structural oppression in engineering systems, organizing for equitable change, and developing an agenda of Engineering for the Common Good. She conferred her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor in April 2021. Her doctoral research included both technical and educational research. She also holds an M.S.E. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor and a B.S.E. in civil engineering from Case Western Reserve University, both in the areas of structural engineering and solid mechanics.

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Aaron W. Johnson University of Colorado Boulder

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Aaron W. Johnson is an Instructor in Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Prior to this he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan and the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. He received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 and a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan in 2008.

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Kenneth G. Powell University of Michigan

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Student Paper

The field of aerospace engineering is collectively grappling with the problem of disproportionate underrepresentation of women and people of color both within educational programs and within the aerospace industry. Identifying the problems is a vital preliminary step towards building equitable systems, and the underrepresentation and inequitable outcomes of women and students of color is indeed a well-documented problem. However, building on the theoretical foundation of critical theory, we argue that there exists another substantial sector of the population that is currently marginalized within aerospace engineering: the working class. As income inequality continues to grow both nationally and globally, the population of students who are not coming from highly affluent backgrounds are at a continually growing disadvantage within educational spaces.

This quantitative study takes place at a large, highly selective public research university. Working class Americans account for the vast majority of the national population but are a minority amongst the students studying engineering at this institution. Marginalization processes on the bases of ethnicity and social class have a compounding effect, as is recognized by the theory of intersectionality. Nationally, people of color are more likely than people who are white to be members of the working class, and the same is true at this institution. The aerospace field is also known to have even lower rates of representation of women than other engineering disciplines. Thus, this study seeks to examine how systemically oppressed identities affect outcomes for the undergraduate student population. To do so, we evaluate representation rates and the effects of student identity on the measured outcomes of graduation rate, time to graduation, and cumulative grade point average using critical quantitative methodology. The results offer insights into how systems of oppression are perpetuated within aerospace academia and what specific goals must retain our focus as we build collectively toward systemic change.

Bowen, C. L., & Johnson, A. W., & Powell, K. G. (2021, July), Critical Analyses of Representation and Success Rates of Marginalized Undergraduate Students in Aerospace Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36878

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