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First Generation Students' Engineering Belongingness

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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

Experiences of Diverse Students

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Hank Boone University of Nevada, Reno

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Hank Boone is an Academic Success Coach at Nevada State College and a recent graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on First Generation engineering college students' engineering identity, belongingness, and how they perceive their college experience. He also worked under his advisor on a project looking at non-normative engineering students and how they may have differing paths to success. His education includes a B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Nevada, Reno.

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Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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This research paper investigates first generation (FG) upper level undergraduate engineering students’ engineering experiences and how their experiences affect feelings of engineering belongingness. When compared to “traditional” continuing generation (CG) students, FG students have been shown to have difficulty meeting admission requirements, a need for external employment, and obligations to family. This body of research illuminates FG struggle, but little literature focuses on FG students’ personal experiences and ways they are successful in attaining an engineering degree. This work strives to understand how FG engineering students develop belongingness to major, often at higher levels than their CG peers.

Five FG engineering students with high quantitative belongingness were selected for an interview. A semi-structured interview protocol based in interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to elucidate the students’ experiences that fostered belongingness. Separate themes from each student were created from coding and then overarching themes unified a shared experience.

The following overarching themes were prevalent among the participants: similarity to classmates, recognition as an engineer by peers, limited questioning of belongingness, and belongingness is a state of mind. The results depict that elements of engineering identity play a part in making students feel they belong (e.g., recognition), but in some cases, belongingness is distinct from identity constructs (e.g., being similar to others). Past literature has shown that belongingness and identity may be related, and created by each other, while findings in this study show that identity and belongingness are interrelated and give the research community further insight for upper level FG engineering students.

Boone, H., & Kirn, A. (2017, June), First Generation Students' Engineering Belongingness Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28361

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