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Engineering Students Define Diversity: An Uncommon Thread

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

SPECIAL SESSION: Describing the Engineering Student Learning Experience Based on CAEE Findings: Part 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.524.1 - 13.524.14



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Paper Authors


Lorraine Fleming Howard University

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LORRAINE FLEMING is professor and former Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering at
Howard University. Dr. Fleming serves as the Co-PI of a National Science Foundation HBCU Undergraduate Program grant designed to increase the number of underrepresented minorities who pursue degrees in engineering, mathematics, and science. Additionally, she is a Co-PI for the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education. She serves as the Principal Investigator of an NSF grant designed to study the post baccalaureate decisions of high achieving Black STEM students. She is also a 2005 Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Most recently, Dr. Fleming is the recipient of the 2008 National Society of Black Engineers Educator of the Year Award.

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Sislena Ledbetter Howard University

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SISLENA GROCER LEDBETTER is a social psychologist and owner of Ledbetter Coaching. Her research focuses on women’s well being. Dr. Ledbetter is a research associate working at Howard University in the Center for the Advancement for Engineering Education. Dr. Ledbetter previously worked for the American Psychological Association, where she served as a liaison between the Association and psychology students. She also served on a committee to increase minority student recruitment and retention in Psychology. As a Senior. Research Advisor at AARP Dr. Ledbetter has received the Sustained Excellence Award, a New Ventures in Leadership fellowship, and is the co-founder of the Jerry Florence Memorial Mentoring Program.

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Dawn Williams Howard University


Janice McCain Howard University

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JANICE McCAIN is a Research Associate at the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education at Howard University. Dr. McCain's areas of interest include persistence and motivation, retention of minority students in higher education, and international economic development, particularly as it relates to women in Africa.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engineering Students Define Diversity: An Uncommon Thread


Diversity has come to mean a lot of different things depending on the context in which it is used and the person using it. As a corporate term, diversity evolved out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, it served as a means of penetrating the dominant ethos of many institutions that aimed to preserve the white male culture. More recently, diversity has been used to include an array of conditions that represent people who feel disenfranchised and excluded. Following a path of seeming ambiguity, today’s engineering students have come to embody diversity as an extension of their home, academic and social environments. The result is a group of students that show indifference to diversity (however defined) and the impact it will have on their professional careers.

Using a 4-year longitudinal mixed method approach, the Academic Pathways Study (APS) investigated engineering skills, education, and identity from the first year through their senior years. Four distinct universities recruited 40 of their students each to participate in the study. This paper shares findings from structured interview data elicited from 94 students during their sophomore year. Grounded theory, an inductive, analytical approach was used to develop the concepts that ultimately informed the research. Data both iterative and inconsistent reveal details about how students define diversity and its impact on their undergraduate academic tenure. Further, we explore the impact that gender and race have on sophomore engineering students’ academic experience and engineering identity. Finally, a broad range of divergent and parallel views shed light and provide insights about diversity and its impact on their potential careers as told by a cross section of sophomores from around the United States; yet, these data are not meant to generalize beyond the population from which it was taken. This paper contributes important knowledge to the growing body of literature in engineering education and diversity.


Burgeoning research on diversity in engineering consistently reveals that engineering struggles to keep pace with trends in the increasingly growing global marketplace1. Numerous ideas have been put forth as to why student attrition among some groups in science and engineering is so high. Women and minorities who start their engineering education experience higher attrition rates in matriculation and are far more likely to defect to other fields than their white male counterparts2. Critical is the rate and level of preparedness to which women and minorities are exposed that prepares them to succeed in a rigorous engineering program. While other fields like veterinary medicine and the medical field continue to enjoy healthy gains across genders and, albeit a lesser degree, multicultural gains through aggressive recruitment and retention efforts, engineering struggles to achieve and sustain the same momentum3.

For more than twenty years, science and engineering degrees have represented approximately one-third of all baccalaureates awarded, according to the National Science Foundation. In 2002, “women earned more than half of the degrees awarded in psychology (78%), biological/agricultural sciences (59%), and social sciences (55%), and almost half (47%) in


Fleming, L., & Ledbetter, S., & Williams, D., & McCain, J. (2008, June), Engineering Students Define Diversity: An Uncommon Thread Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3638

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015