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Exploring the Meaning of Fun: A Missed Opportunity to Retain Underrepresented Groups in Engineering?

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Student Division Diversity and Persistence Related Technical Session

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Jeannie Marie Purchase Virginia Tech

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Jeannie Purchase is a PhD student in the Vecellio Construction Engineering and Management Program (VCEMP) in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Virginia Tech. She is a New Horizon Scholar, Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program (MAOP) Graduate Scholar, and recipient of the Via Scholar Fellowship. Jeannie graduated with a B.S. in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University. Her main research interests are public engagement for public infrastructure projects, sustainability education, and increasing diversity in STEM fields.

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Denise Rutledge Simmons P.E. Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Denise R. Simmons, Ph.D., PE, LEED-AP, is an assistant professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department, and an affiliate faculty of the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in civil engineering and a graduate certificate in engineering education – all from Clemson University. She is the 2016 recipient of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Assistant Professor and the Black Graduate Student Organization’s Lisa Tabor Award for Community Service. Using deep insights from a fourteen-year industry career and her strengths as a systems thinker, she is now developing and disseminating empirically-grounded models and strategies for improved human competence, motivation, and learning as it relates to the civil engineering profession and the construction industry. She is a discipline-based education researcher who passionately pursues research to develop an agile, ethical, diverse construction workforce enabled to lead, design, and build sustainable, intelligent infrastructure. Her mission is to transform the construction workforce and sustain change. To this end, she undertakes research that enables her to influence postsecondary education and workplace learning pathways; instructional, diversity, recruitment, and retention strategies; and federal, state, local and institutional policies and practice and that result in professional competency in civil and construction engineering.

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In recent years, there has been increasing interests backed by research, public policy, national initiatives, and funding to increase the number and diversity of engineering college graduates. Although more students from underrepresented groups are completing bachelor's degrees in engineering, these groups are not pursuing graduate degrees or professions in an engineering field. Whether focusing on retaining students or employees, studies have shown that engagement is a key indicator of retention. A recent study has linked in- and out-of-class activities that students experience during college to their engagement in the workplace and their overall well-being after college. However, when compared to students of other majors, engineering students are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities. By understanding students’ perceived benefits and motivations for pursing out-of-class activities, we can begin to understand how these activities bolster student engagement in and outside of the classroom, which in turn can lead to increased retention rates of underrepresented groups in engineering. The purpose of this exploratory case study is to gain a deeper understanding of undergraduate engineering student engagement from the perspective of underrepresented groups. This research sought to understand how “fun” manifests itself in the lives of underrepresented students and how “fun” is linked to student engagement in in- and out-of-class activities. This case study used semi-structured interviews to investigate two students’ (one Hispanic male and one White female) meaning of “fun” as they described their participation in-class and out-of-class activities. The interviews were conducted, transcribed, and analyzed using a version of whole text analysis and inductive coding. The major theme that emerged was the importance of fun when participating in both in-class and out-of-class activities. Fun in out-of-class activities was associated with the development of a well-rounded engineer who can effectively manage the dynamics of work/life balance. The interview participants described in-class fun they provided examples of when they participated in deep-learning experiences that increased their levels of engagement. This research contributes a different perspective on engineering engagement in higher education and supports the value of out-of-class activities in the development of underrepresented engineering student. Analysis of perceptions of the two interview participants suggest that the idea of “fun” in the lives of underrepresented, undergraduate engineering students is an interesting and relevant topic for future research with the potential to increase graduation and retention rates.

Purchase, J. M., & Simmons, D. R. (2017, June), Exploring the Meaning of Fun: A Missed Opportunity to Retain Underrepresented Groups in Engineering? Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28339

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