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GPA Patterns of Black Mechanical Engineering Students (Work in Progress)

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 3

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Paper Authors


Jessica Manning Clemson University

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Jessica Manning is a PhD student in the Department of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University. She is also a Graduate Administrative Assistant for the Bioengineering Department and assists with advising students throughout their academic careers. Her primary research focuses on women and minorities in multiple engineering disciplines. She earned her BS from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, and her MS from Clemson University, Clemson, both in Mechanical Engineering.

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Catherine Mobley Clemson University

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Catherine Mobley, Professor of Sociology at Clemson University, holds a B.A. in Sociology from Clemson University, Clemson, SC (USA), an M.S. in Policy Analysis from the University of Bath (England), and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland (USA). Her primary areas of research are engineering/STEM education, environmental sustainability, food insecurity, and applied sociology. Much of Dr. Mobley’s research is interdisciplinary as she has collaborated with colleagues from across the university. She has over 30 years of evaluation experience, conducting community-level assessments and evaluating collaborative research efforts. Dr. Mobley has also been involved in extensive applied work in the community, reflecting an explicit integration of her teaching, research and service endeavors.

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Marisa Orr Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Marisa K. Orr is an Associate 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 Brawner

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Catherine E. Brawner is president of Research Triangle Educational Consultants in Raleigh, NC. She received her PhD in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from North Carolina State University, her Masters of Business Administration from Indiana University (Bloomington), and a bachelor's degree from Duke University. She specializes in research and evaluation in higher education STEM disciplines with a particular focus on underrepresented groups.

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Rebecca Brent

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Dr. Brent is President of Education Designs, Inc., a consulting firm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She has more than 40 years of experience in education and specializes in staff development in engineering and the sciences, qualitative research of gender and race in engineering, and evaluation of educational programs at both precollege and college levels. She has authored or coauthored roughly 130 papers on those topics and a book with Richard Felder, Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide. She earned a B.A. in Music Education from Millsaps College in Jackson, MS, an M.Ed. in elementary education from Mississippi State University, and an Ed.D. in curriculum and teaching from Auburn University in AL. She holds a Certificate in Evaluation Practice from the Evaluators’ Institute at George Washington University. Prior to entering private consulting, she was an Associate Professor of Education at East Carolina University where she won an outstanding teacher award. In 2014, Dr. Brent was named a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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Michael Tidwell Clemson University

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In recent years, research has associated grade point average (GPA) with a variety of student outcomes during their undergraduate careers. The studies link higher GPAs to students being more likely to graduate in their major, while lower GPAs have been linked to students switching majors or leaving the institution. Further research, which focuses on how Black female and male students remain successful in different engineering degrees, is necessary to identify the underlying elements contributing to their entrance into and exit from engineering disciplines.

This quantitative examination of trends among the GPAs of Black women and men is part of a larger NSF-funded mixed-methods study that includes in-depth student interviews of Black students who persisted in and switched from ME. In this quantitative paper, we examine the GPA patterns of Black students in Mechanical Engineering (ME). Students who have ever enrolled in ME have four potential, mutually exclusive, outcomes: 1) they can persist for 12 semesters without graduating; 2) they can graduate in ME within 12 semesters; 3) they can switch to another major; or 4) they can leave school. In this research, we identify the most common GPA patterns associated with graduated ME students.

We hypothesize a relationship between distinct GPA patterns and whether a student persists in ME, graduates in ME, switches away from ME, or leaves the institution altogether. This quantitative investigation uses the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD) to collect the cumulative GPA of ME students at each term. We use a functional cluster analysis approach to group similar patterns. First, a function is fit to each student record. Then a cluster analysis is conducted on the function parameters to identify natural groupings in the data. Once students are grouped according to their GPA profile, we examine the other characteristics and outcomes of the group.

We present a visual quantitative analysis of the patterns in the GPAs of Black women and men who enroll in ME. Clustering analysis suggests that first-time-in-college (FTIC) Black female students in ME who graduated have a higher proportion of students in the higher GPA clusters than the proportion of FTIC Black male students who graduated in ME. A higher proportion of the male student population is clustered in the lower GPA cluster groups as compared to women in the lower GPA cluster groups. A higher proportion of students who graduated are in the higher GPA clusters than the proportion of graduated students in the lower GPA clusters.

Manning, J., & Mobley, C., & Orr, M., & Brawner, C., & Brent, R., & Tidwell, M. (2022, August), GPA Patterns of Black Mechanical Engineering Students (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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