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Evaluating Support For Underrepresented Students In Engineering Degree Programs

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Student Diversity: attracting and retaining a diverse population of students

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.695.1 - 12.695.12



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Paper Authors


Carol Haden Northern Arizona University

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Carol Haden is the Evaluation Coordinator for the Center for Science Teaching and Learning at Northern Arizona University where she received her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction. She is involved in the evaluation of multiple projects intended to improve undergraduate education in the sciences and engineering.

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

Evaluating Support for Underrepresented Students in Engineering Degree Programs Abstract

A study was undertaken to examine sources of support and challenges to retention of underrepresented women and minorities at Northern Arizona University. The study was evaluative in nature in that it sought to understand how well underrepresented students are being supported to complete their degree programs, and to gain insights into how programs might be enhanced or developed to support these students to degree completion. A mixed-methods research design involving a survey and in-depth interviews of students, faculty and staff yielded several factors that support and challenge students toward degree completion at this institution. Applications to programmatic decision-making are discussed.

Introduction and Background

It is common knowledge in the field of engineering education that numbers of women and minorities obtaining engineering degrees is far below their representation in the U.S. population[1]. Many studies have sought to discern reasons for lack of representation of women and minorities in science, mathematics and engineering degree programs. Studies related to minority students point to, among other factors, lack of pre-college academic preparation, financial difficulties, barriers related to being first generation college students [e.g. 2, 3, 4] and socio- cultural factors [5]. Studies related to female student underrepresentation in S&E fields have suggested that women leave not from a lack of academic ability, but among other reasons, because of socio-cultural factors [1, 5, 6], and issues of confidence [7-9]. It is essential to understand not only what factors act as barriers to persistence for underrepresented students, but also what essential elements support the persistence of these students who are crucial to ensuring a more diverse engineering work force.

Research on student persistence in higher education has revealed that once a student enters an institution of higher learning, social and academic factors interplay with his or her level of commitment to completing a degree program [10, 11]. In other words, once enrolled, students have academic and social experiences, including interactions with faculty and peers, experiences in the classroom, and experiences with the curriculum which interact to lead to new levels of commitment to their goals and to the individual institution. Social and academic activities and experiences during college can serve to either reinforce or weaken the individual’s goal and institutional commitments leading to decisions of whether to remain or leave the institution (or program). This study was approached from the perspective of better understanding the social and academic integration factors that support and hinder underrepresented students in persisting toward graduation from engineering and engineering-related degree programs.

In the spring of 2003 the engineering programs at Northern Arizona University began the Engineering Talent Pipeline (ETP) project, funded through the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Engineering Schools of the West Initiative. The five year award funds activities directly related to increasing recruitment and retention of students in engineering and engineering-related degree programs, with special emphasis on underrepresented women and

Haden, C. (2007, June), Evaluating Support For Underrepresented Students In Engineering Degree Programs Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2729

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