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Exploring Within-Group Differences in Student-Faculty Interactions among Black Engineering Students at a Selective Four-Year Engineering College

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Felicia James Onuma University of Maryland, College Park

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Felicia Onuma is a Ph.D. candidate in Higher Education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests center around the enrollment and retention of Black (immigrant) students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and the experiences of Black immigrant collegians at private elite U.S. colleges and universities. Felicia currently holds a graduate assistantship in the Department of Fire Protection Engineering where she oversees outreach and retention initiatives. She also holds an engineering education research assistantship that advances and engages her expertise in engineering education.

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Bruk T. Berhane University of Maryland, College Park

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Dr. Bruk T. Berhane received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 2003. He then completed a master’s degree in engineering management at George Washington University in 2007. In 2016, he earned a Ph.D. in the Minority and Urban Education Unit of the College of Education at the University of Maryland.
Bruk worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he focused on nanotechnology, from 2003 to 2005. In 2005 he left JHU/APL for a fellowship with the National Academies where he conducted research on methods of increasing the number of women in engineering. After a brief stint teaching mathematics in Baltimore City following his departure from the National Academies, he began working for the Center for Minorities in Science and Engineering (CMSE) in the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland.
In 2011, he began working directly under the Office of the Dean in the Clark School, coordinating outreach and recruitment programs for the college. In 2016, he assumed the role of director of the Office of Undergraduate Recruitment and Scholarship Programs. His duties entailed working with prospective freshmen and transfer engineering students.
In 2018, he transitioned to the role of Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the Clark School. His research interests transfer students who first enroll in community colleges, as well as developing broader and more nuanced engineering performance indicators.

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Although a sizeable and growing body of literature has explored the experiences of underrepresented racial and ethnic minority (URM) students in STEM fields, few studies have centered the experiences of Black students in engineering. Within the body of literature on Black engineering students, a much smaller fraction of studies have employed quantitative methodologies or have sought to examine the experiences of Black students with engineering faculty.

Using a primary dataset created from the survey responses of 98 Black undergraduate engineering degree recipients from a selective four-year engineering college in the United States, this work seeks to answer three critical questions. First, what are the experiences of Black engineering students with engineering faculty at a selective four-year engineering college? Second, to what extent do the experiences of Black engineering students with engineering faculty vary by ethnicity? Third, what differences exist in student-faculty interactions by gender among Black engineering students?

As it concerns ethnicity, we distinguish between African American students, students who themselves and their parents were born in the United States, and Black immigrant students, who were either born outside of the United States in Africa or the Caribbean or have at least one parent who meets this criteria. Given the findings of research in demography, we also distinguish between Black students with two immigrant parents and those with one or no immigrant parent. As it pertains to gender, this study explores the experiences of male and female students. It is important to note that the survey employed in this study did not provide pre-defined categories for gender but rather, an empty box to insert one’s gender. All participants self-identified as either male or female. No other gender identities were reported.

Seven proxies or statements measured on 5-point scales were used to determine Black engineering students’ experiences with engineering faculty. Descriptive statistics are utilized to answer the first research question. One-way ANOVA and Bonferroni post-hoc/multiple-comparison tests are used to answer the second and third research questions.

The majority of Black undergraduate engineering alumni in this study are classified as Black immigrants. Although most Black engineering alumni report that they did not experience racial microaggressions or discrimination from their engineering faculty, Black males and Black students who were born to two immigrant parents were significantly more likely than their female peers or peers who were born to one or no immigrant parent respectively to hold this perception. Black female engineering alumni were also significantly more likely than their male peers to opine that they were negatively stereotyped by engineering faculty because of their gender/gender identity.

The findings of this study underscore the importance of disaggregating Black engineering students by ethnicity and gender to achieve a better understanding of how to facilitate their persistence and success in the field. Our findings also suggest that there is need for dialogue about the overrepresentation of immigrants, and underrepresentation of African Americans, among Black undergraduate engineering degree recipients. Additionally, there is need for faculty practices that alleviate the double bind faced by Black females in engineering.

Onuma, F. J., & Berhane, B. T. (2019, June), Exploring Within-Group Differences in Student-Faculty Interactions among Black Engineering Students at a Selective Four-Year Engineering College Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32820

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