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Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Belongingness in Civil Engineering

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 10: Understanding Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is a Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, and the Editor of the Journal of Engineering Education. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects focus on student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, development of problem solving skills, self-regulated learning, and epistemic beliefs. She earned a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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Candice Bolding Clemson University

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Candice Bolding is currently the Undergraduate Student Services Manager in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering and graduate student at Clemson University. She acts as a support to the undergraduate students in areas such as advising, programming, and registration. She also serves as the advisor to the Civil Engineering Student Advisory Council, which provides a voice for undergraduate students in the program. She also supervises department outreach student ambassadors. She currently sits on the department's Diversity and Outreach Committee and is a liaison for the department to the Office of the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies for the college.

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Jennifer Harper Ogle Clemson University

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Dr. Jennifer Ogle is currently an Associate Professor in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University. She specializes in transportation infrastructure design, safety, and management, and has been the faculty advisor for the Clemson Engineers for Developing Countries (CEDC) program since 2011. During this time, the CEDC program has tripled in growth and has been recognized by the Institute for International Education (IIE) with the Andrew Heiskell Award as a model program, and was also recognized by the State of South Carolina for the Service Learning Award in 2011. Dr. Ogle was also recognized in 2012 by President Obama as a Champion of Change for Women in STEM, and participates in a number of diversity-enhancement programs at the university including serving as the Deputy Chair of the Women's Commission and as a member of the ADA Task Force.

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Catherine Mcgough Spence Clemson University

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Catherine McGough is currently a graduate research assistant in Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Clemson University in 2014. Her research interests are in undergraduate engineering student motivations and undergraduate engineering problem solving skill development and strategies.

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Joseph Murphy Clemson University

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Joseph Murphy is a Fall 2018 graduate of Clemson University whose research interests include expanding access to higher education, combating stratification and sexuality studies. He is actively participating in SC INCLUDES, a research project aimed at improving engineering student retention in South Carolina via improving math education and inter-institutional coordination. He is also participating in the ARCH INITIATIVES, a research project with the goal of increasing diversity and improving the curriculum for civil engineering at Clemson.

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Rachel Lanning Clemson University

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Prior research shows that engineering students with low feelings of belongingness tend to switch to non-technical majors. With the understanding that aspects of student motivation, identity, and personality, as well as their academic performance, affect their sense of community in engineering, this study seeks to assess these student attributes over time. The context for this study is a single civil engineering program that is undergoing both curricular and cultural changes as part of an NSF-funded project. The data and findings presented here are part of a larger study of how student attitudes and beliefs change during their experiences in a curriculum that is different from the status quo. The focus of this paper is on students’ sense of belonging within their courses, major and university, and how those perceptions differ based on student demographics and year in the program.

Data collected for this study include responses to a survey designed to assess the current civil engineering students’ motivation, attitudes and beliefs about their courses, department, and university. The survey, which was adapted from a prior NSF-funded project, included eight constructs: sense of community, time-oriented motivation, goal orientation, career outcome expectations, grit, identity, agency beliefs and Big 5 personality traits. Subscales for students’ sense of community (which is the focus of this paper) were sense of community within their current engineering course, their engineering major and university.

Undergraduates were invited to complete the survey during lab courses in which they were enrolled during the Fall and Spring semesters. Of the total number of students in the program, 92.2% completed the survey (86% White and 80% male, which is representative of enrollment in the department). Quantitative data analyses included descriptive statistics, inferential statistics (ANOVA) to compare the factor means by gender and race and by year in the program.

Interviews were conducted with a subset of the survey participants (n=9) from a range of classes and demographics during the last two weeks of each semester. The interview questions pertaining to students’ perceptions of belongingness are included in this paper, although other questions explored students’ beliefs about identity and their perceptions of their future in engineering. Interviews were analyzed using open coding, with codes organized into categories and themes.

Quantitative results showed that mean scores for all three belongingness sub-constructs increase as students’ time in the program increases, with the exception of juniors having the highest score for sense of belonging at the university level. The largest increases in sense of belonging at the course, major and institution levels were between sophomore and junior year. Some factors of belongingness were significantly lower for non-majority student groups. Qualitative analyses revealed that students’ perceptions of belongingness were affected by positive learning experiences, connecting with civil engineers in different contexts, making personal connections and having a sense of solidarity with others in the program. Perceptions of not belonging were affected by students selecting this major to fulfill others’ expectations, not meeting instructors’ expectations, and a lack of role models for females.

Benson, L., & Bolding, C., & Ogle, J. H., & Spence, C. M., & Murphy, J., & Lanning, R. (2019, June), Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Belongingness in Civil Engineering Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32737

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