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This Work in Progress paper will explore and propose a framework for operationalizing ways in which exclusion is present in engineering culture and influential in engineering student attrition.
Recruiting a large and diverse population of incoming engineering students has become a priority for many institutions to address both the growing need for engineers and the lack of diversity in engineering-related academic and industry settings. Despite efforts to improve recruitment and retention, the number of students that leave engineering before completing their degrees continues to be a problem. One reason for this retention problem that deserves exploration is how the ‘weed-out’ culture – or the belief that some courses or experiences remove students who are not ‘cut-out’ to be engineers – is influential in engineering attrition.
The idea that not every student that aspires to be an engineer can or should be an engineer manifests itself commonly in higher education programs by way of these ‘weed-out’ courses and students’ experiences within them. While GPA and course grades are commonly to blame for ‘weeding’ students out, exclusion is pervasive in the engineering community beyond quantitative measures of student abilities. While many students cite leaving engineering due to a lack of content knowledge, many others yet cite chilly climates, lacking a sense of belonging, unwelcoming and competitive environments, and so on. We posit that while 'weed-out’ culture is associated with undergraduate engineering programs, exclusion is pervasive in the broader engineering community.
While organizational culture theories have been used to study engineering industry and academic settings in past research, this Work in Progress paper will propose a framework of exclusion that can be used in future work to relate and connect 1) research on engineering culture, specifically focusing on beliefs regarding exclusion and who is or is not good enough to be an engineer and what metrics, people, or systems make that determination and 2) research on engineering student attrition and retention, specifically focusing on what factors students attribute to leaving engineering and how those factors relate to exclusion and ‘weed-out’ culture.
We aim to use this framework to synthesize and combine these two bodies of research to shed new light on how the engineering education community discusses engineering retention and attrition. By applying an organizational culture lens to the challenge of engineering student retention, a new set of considerations and strategies could be at the disposal of higher education and administration in engineering colleges. Beginning to reframe the culture of engineering from one of exclusion to that of inclusivity has the potential to drastically change the ideas and perceptions of who can and cannot become an engineer.
Wallwey, C., & Guanes, G., & Milburn, T., & Grifski, J. (2022, August), Engineering and Exclusionary ‘Weed-Out’ Culture: A Framework for Exploring Literature for Meaning and Influence Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/41070
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