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Defining First-generation and Low-income Students in Engineering: An Exploration

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Conference

2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Identity, Culture, and Socialization

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

26

DOI

10.18260/1-2--34373

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/34373

Download Count

79

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Paper Authors

biography

Sara A. Atwood Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Sara A. Atwood is an Associate Professor and Chair of Engineering at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. She holds a BA and MS in Engineering Sciences from Dartmouth College, and PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Atwood’s research interests are in creativity, engineering design, first-generation and low-income students, internship experiences, and criterion-based course structures.

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Shannon Katherine Gilmartin Stanford University

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Shannon K. Gilmartin, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Scholar at the Stanford VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab and Adjunct Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. She is also Managing Director of SKG Analysis, a research consulting firm. Her expertise and interests focus on education and workforce development in engineering and science fields. Previous and current clients include the American Chemical Society, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, California Institute of Technology, the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University Fullerton, the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education at Stanford University, the School of Medicine at Stanford University, and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

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Angela Harris North Carolina State University

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Dr. Angela Harris joined the faculty at NCSU in August 2018 as an Assistant Professor. Harris is a member of the Global Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (Global WaSH) cluster in the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program. Her research seeks to better characterize human exposure pathways of fecal contamination and develop methods to interrupt pathogen transmission to protect human health. Harris is engaged in computational and laboratory investigations in addition to conducting field work in international locations (prior work includes projects in Tanzania, Kenya, and Bangladesh). She also works on better understanding undergraduate engineering student interests, behaviors, development, and career choices related to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Harris earned her Ph.D. (2015) and M.S. (2010) in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. She also received her B.S. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (2009).

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Abstract

First-generation (FG) and/or low-income (LI) engineering student populations are of particular interest in engineering education. However, these populations are not defined in a consistent manner across the literature or amongst stakeholders. The intersectional identities of these groups have also not been fully explored in most quantitative-based engineering education research. This research paper aims to answer the following three research questions: (RQ1) How do students’ demographic characteristics and college experiences differ depending on levels of parent educational attainment (which forms the basis of first-generation definitions) and family income? (RQ2) How do ‘first-generation’ and ‘low-income’ definitions impact results comparing to their continuing-generation and higher-income peers? (RQ3) How does considering first-generation and low-income identities through an intersectional lens deepen insight into the experiences of first-generation and low-income groups?

Data were drawn from a nationally representative survey of engineering juniors and seniors (n = 6197 from 27 U.S. institutions). Statistical analyses were conducted to evaluate respondent differences in demographics (underrepresented racial/ethnic minority (URM), women, URM women), college experiences (internships/co-ops, having a job, conducting research, and study abroad), and engineering task self-efficacy (ETSE), based on various definitions of ‘first generation’ and ‘low income’ depending on levels of parental educational attainment and self-reported family income.

Our results indicate that categorizing a first-generation student as someone whose parents have less than an associate’s degree versus less than a bachelor’s degree may lead to different understandings of their experiences (RQ1). For example, the proportion of URM students is higher among those whose parents have less than an associate’s degree than among their “associate’s degree or more” peers (26% vs 11.9%). However, differences in college experiences are most pronounced among students whose parents have less than a bachelor’s degree compared with their “bachelor’s degree or more” peers: having a job to help pay for college (55.4% vs 47.3%), research with faculty (22.7% vs 35.0%), and study abroad (9.0% vs 17.3%). With respect to differences by income levels, respondents are statistically different across income groups, with fewer URM students as family income level increases. As family income level increases, there are more women in aggregate, but fewer URM women. College experiences are different for the middle income or higher group (internship 48.4% low and lower-middle income vs 59.0% middle income or higher; study abroad 11.2% vs 16.4%; job 58.6% vs 46.8%).

Despite these differences in demographic characteristics and college experiences depending on parental educational attainment and family income, our dataset indicates that the definition does not change the statistical significance when comparing between first-generation students and students who were continuing-generation by any definition (RQ2).

First-generation and low-income statuses are often used as proxies for one another, and in this dataset, are highly correlated. However, there are unique patterns at the intersection of these two identities. For the purpose of our RQ3 analysis, we define ‘first-generation’ as students whose parents earned less than a bachelor’s degree and ‘low-income’ as low or lower-middle income. In this sample, 68 percent of students were neither FG nor LI while 11 percent were both (FG&LI). On no measure of demographics or college experience is the FG&LI group statistically similar to the advantaged group. Low-income students had the highest participation in working to pay for college, regardless of parental education, while first-generation students had the lower internship participation than low-income students. Furthermore, being FG&LI is associated with lower ETSE compared with all other groups.

These results suggest that care is required when applying the labels “first-generation” and/or “low-income” when considering these groups in developing institutional support programs, in engineering education research, and in educational policy. Moreover, by considering first-generation and low-income students with an intersectional lens, we gain deeper insight into engineering student populations that may reveal potential opportunities and barriers to educational resources and experiences that are an important part of preparation for an engineering career.

Atwood, S. A., & Gilmartin, S. K., & Harris, A., & Sheppard, S. (2020, June), Defining First-generation and Low-income Students in Engineering: An Exploration Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34373

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