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Explaining Choice, Persistence, and Attrition of Black Students in Electrical, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering: Year 3

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Catherine Mobley Clemson University

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Catherine Mobley, Ph.D., is a Professor of Sociology at Clemson University. She has over 30 years experience in project and program evaluation and has worked for a variety of consulting firms, non-profit agencies, and government organizations, including the Rand Corporation, the American Association of Retired Persons, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Since 2004, she been a member of the NSF-funded MIDFIELD research project on engineering education; she has served as a Co-PI on three research projects, including one on transfer students and another on student veterans in engineering.

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Marisa K. Orr Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Marisa K. Orr is an Assistant Professor in Engineering and Science Education with a joint appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University. Her research interests include student persistence and pathways in engineering, gender equity, diversity, and academic policy. Dr. Orr is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award for her research entitled, “Empowering Students to be Adaptive Decision-Makers.”

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Catherine E. Brawner Research Triangle Educational Consultants

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Catherine E. Brawner is President of Research Triangle Educational Consultants. She received her Educational Research and Policy Analysis from NC State University in 1996. She also has an MBA from Indiana University (Bloomington) and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. She specializes in
evaluation and research in engineering education, computer science education, and technology education. Dr. Brawner is a founding member and former treasurer of Research Triangle Park Evaluators, an American Evaluation Association affiliate organization and is a member of the American Educational Research Association and American Evaluation Association, in addition to ASEE. Dr. Brawner is also an Extension Services Consultant for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) and, in that role, advises computer science and engineering departments on diversifying their undergraduate student population. She remains an active researcher, including studying academic policies, gender and ethnicity issues, transfers, and matriculation models with MIDFIELD as well as student veterans in engineering. Her evaluation work includes evaluating teamwork models, broadening participation initiatives, and S-STEM and LSAMP programs.

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Rebecca Brent Education Designs, Inc.

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Rebecca Brent is President of Education Designs, Inc., a consulting firm located in Chapel Hill, N.C. She is a certified program evaluator and a faculty development consultant. Brent received her B.A. from Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., her M.Ed. from Mississippi State University, and her Ed.D. from Auburn University. She is an ASEE Fellow.

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Our transformative mixed-methods project, funded by the Division of Engineering Education and Centers, responds to calls for more cross-institutional qualitative and longitudinal studies of minorities in engineering education. We seek to identify the factors that promote persistence and graduation as well as attrition for Black students in Electrical Engineering (EE), Computer Engineering (CpE), and Mechanical Engineering (ME). Our work combines quantitative exploration and qualitative interviews to better understand the nuanced and complex nature of retention and attrition in these fields. We are investigating the following overarching research questions:

1. Why do Black men and women choose and persist in, or leave, EE, CpE, and ME? 2. What are the academic trajectories of Black men and women in EE, CpE, and ME? 3. In what ways do these pathways vary by gender or institution? 4. What institutional policies and practices promote greater retention of Black engineering students?

In this paper, we report on the results from 79 in-depth interviews with students at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and a Historically Black University (HBCU [or HBU]). We describe emergent findings during Year 3 of our project, with a focus on several papers that we presented in the past year:

• Paper # 1: In this paper, we describe the methodological approach – identity circles – that we used in our in-depth interviews of Black students in engineering to investigate themes related to identity. Each interviewee was asked to complete an identity circle, illustrating the centrality and overlapping nature of various identities to their engineering education experiences. Through the use of an identity circle during the in-depth interviews, we hoped to learn more about the dynamic nature of identity, as the enactment and relevance of identities varies across time and place. The identity circle exercise uncovered valuable information about the influence of various identities on participants’ sense of self and on their engineering education. • Paper # 2: We summarized student responses to a pre-interview climate survey about three domains – Teaching and Learning, Faculty and Peer Interactions, and Belonging and Commitment. We investigated two questions: Are there differences between persisters and switchers? And, are there differences by study major? Results indicate substantial differences between persisters and switchers and some differences between ME and ECE students. • Paper #3: An undergraduate researcher working with the team is using a case-study approach to examine how immigrant Black students with an international background have experienced racism in the US and abroad. The case study authored by an undergraduate student and reported in this poster focuses on how students with international experience make sense of racism in the US. Students with this specific background are either children of immigrants, immigrants themselves, and have studied or lived overseas before beginning their engineering degree in the US. The author applied a mixed methods approach, though it is heavily driven by qualitative research. The author drew upon Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) theory as a framework to better understand how these students comprehend racism and sexism.

In this grantees paper and poster, we also briefly report on our plans for the upcoming year for data analysis and manuscript submission.

Mobley, C., & Orr, M. K., & Brawner, C. E., & Brent, R. (2021, July), Explaining Choice, Persistence, and Attrition of Black Students in Electrical, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering: Year 3 Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37136

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