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February 20, 2022
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Introduction: The pursuit of education in engineering is a challenging endeavor for students. However, for Black students, this challenging experience is also coupled with racialized challenges such as experiences with racism, isolation, microaggressions, and visibility. This study focuses on the recommendations from Black graduate students in engineering to institutions. These recommendations explicitly focus on what institutions could do to enhance the experiences of Black students navigating their engineering education. This work uses an assets-based approach to prioritize the recommendations and reflections of those that have successfully navigated these environments. Awareness of the opportunities to enhance the collective experience of Black engineering students, as identified by current Black engineering graduate students, enables the establishment of an intentional agenda that institutions can employ to increase satisfaction, retention, and positive outcomes among Black engineering students. Theoretical Framework: The Person-Environment (PE) Fit Theory seeks to gauge the correlation between one’s personality type and their environment to see if there is a “fit” between the two. It relies on the congruence between personal and situational factors to lead to positive outcomes such as persistence, satisfaction, or success. This work is situated in this theory as it supports the investigation of congruence described by Black graduate students and the academic environments they have navigated. The recommendations provided by participants will serve to highlight the areas where greater congruence is necessary to promote positive outcomes for the students. Methods: Graduate students currently enrolled in doctoral engineering programs were recruited for this study. A total of sixteen individuals participated in this study with all identifying as Black. The qualitative analysis of the data was conducted in two cycles. As a first-cycle analysis, transcripts were coded deductively for recommendations. The code ‘recommendations’ was defined as ideas, thoughts, and/or solutions stated by participants in suggesting ways that the experience for Black students could be improved. Recommendations. could apply to undergraduate and/or graduate level and be regarding any aspect of the engineering students’ experiences from classes to student organizations. All excerpts coded as recommendations were then exported. Pattern coding was applied as a second-cycle coding mechanism to categorize recommendations according to their focus. Several categories, or themes, were derived from the recommendation data. Findings: The following three themes were the most reported across the participants. Underlying many of the recommendations was a desire for the institution to be intentional and accountable in their efforts to foster environments more inclusive to and aware of the Black student experiences. The specific themes were: faculty awareness and development, intentional recruitment and accountability, and metrics to assess diversity, equity, and inclusion. Faculty Awareness and Development: Participants conveyed an urgent need for faculty awareness and development, specifically in terms of their individual cultural competence, attitudes and behaviors around inclusivity, and empathy; to be mandated and monitored by institutions. Many students expressed a belief that opportunities to talk and share their experiences would aid in the development of material that could be utilized for effective interventions and training of faculty with the goals of promoting equity and inclusion at the forefront. Participants also shared similar sentiments related to faculty providing equal treatment to all students and better understanding the demographics, backgrounds, identities, and cultural norms of students with whom they work. Students expressed the significance of feeling supported by faculty, despite their ethnic backgrounds. Across the participants, the critical role that faculty play in students’ satisfaction and success, was evident. Intentional Recruitment: Participants described an “easy” solution to the difficulty related to recruiting Black faculty and students—intentionality. The perception across the participants was that institutions lack intentionality in their recruitment of Black faculty and students, which influenced disbelief that institutions truly want different, and particularly, better, outcomes for Black students. Participants recognized the importance of critical mass and urged that representation matters. Myriad solutions to enhance recruitment were provided such as having institutions attend the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Annual Convention and diversifying administrations in a way that would influence top-down foci on diversity. However, at the core of a complex problem in underrepresentation, a low-hanging strategy that institutions are not currently perceived to employ is intentionality about Black representation at their institution, and in engineering, specifically. Accountability and Metrics to Assess Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: The participants recommended that schools be required to design tools for JEDI assessments of their engineering programs after expressing their disappointment in their program’s efforts. Alongside this was the recommendation to follow-up on surveys administered to students. Many participants explicitly interpreted institutions’ inaction as a lack of accountability, which impacts their decision to contribute to and complete continued JEDI-related surveys. Establishing clear metrics and a system of accountability will enable the creation of a sustained inclusive environment with success as more than mere quantitative demographic targets, but reflecting back to the voices of those on the other side of the experiences to see if they can “feel” the institutions’ efforts to improve the culture, available resources and supports for Black students. Conclusion: Utilizing recommendations from students who have navigated these spaces provides first-hand insight that should be prioritized in efforts to improve these engineering environments. As engineering programs seek to enhance such experiences, students’ recommendations are an ideal starting place to anchor their agenda of reform. In interpreting the applicability of this work, it is critical to note that the data collected reflected concerns with diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice though predating national attention to these issues. This speaks to the endured injustices, as perceived by Black students, that are seemingly only recently entering the national conversation as the focus has been on diversity, and more recently inclusion, but less on the ideals promoting and/or inhibiting them such as systemic racism. Given the opportunity to conduct this study in the current moment, it is plausible that students’ experiences and/or needs could be exacerbated in this sociopolitical climate. It is time that the voices of those on the experiential side of oppression be amplified and responded to. As recommended by the participants, intentionality is paramount for the first steps toward change and we are hopeful that this work will support institutional knowledge in opportunities to better support Black students.
Thomas, K., & Greene, M. L., & Coley, B. C., & Maitra, D., & Brisbane, J. M., & London, J. S. (2022, February), For Us, By Us: Recommendations for Institutional Efforts to Enhance the Black Student Experience in Engineering Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39118
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