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Identification with Academics and Multiple Identities: Combining Theoretical Frameworks to Better Understand the Experiences of Minority Engineering Students

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

New Research and Trends for Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.710.1 - 25.710.8



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Paper Authors


Kelly J. Cross Virginia Tech

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Kelly earned her bachelor's of science in chemical engineering from Purdue University in 2007. She earned her master’s of Science in materials science and engineering from the University of Cincinnati. Cross is currently in the second year of the engineering education Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech and is currently involved with multiple educational research projects with faculty at Virginia Tech.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of engineering education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, and design education. She was awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study expert teaching practices in capstone design courses nationwide, and is co-PI on several NSF grants to explore identity and interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering design.

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Multiple Identities: How to Assess Minority Engineering Students Identification  with Academics This paper brings together two theoretical frameworks, identification with academics andmultiple identities, to propose a new method for understanding and overcoming the barriers thatlimit the retention of underrepresented groups in engineering.Despite years of effort, diversity is still limited throughout engineering and underrepresentedstudents often face challenges stemming from a lack of belongingness and value within anacademic setting. Lower retention rates of minority students have been explained throughmotivation theory in terms of lack of identification with academics (Osborne 2011).Identification here refers to an individual’s snese of the value of a given domain (in this case,academics) coupled with a feeling of belongingness in that domain.. Several authors have linkedstronger identification with academics to positive outcomes such as retention and higherachievement (Osborne, 2011& Pizzolato, 2008).While identification has been used in education research to understand barriers to retention,studies of student development have employed theories of multiple identities andintersectionality to understand the experiences of individuals in underrepresented groups.Multiple identity theory examines the ways in which individuals’ demographic, cultural, social,and personal identities (e.g. race, class, gender, ethnicity, age) intersect; this approachemphasizes the ways in which experience is not simply an additive sum of individualcharacteristics. That is, for example, the experience of being an African-American woman inengineering is not simply the addition of being African-American, being female, and being anengineering student. Instead, those identities intersection in more complex ways and may also beinflected by additional factors.While these two frameworks have been examined independently, few studies bring themtogether to bear on the challenges faced by underrepresented groups in engineering. Theproposed paper provides a review of key studies in both areas that have implications for diversityin engineering, and then synthesizes the two frameworks to identify themes that link the theoryand practice. The collection of peer reviewed journal articles were primarily from sources thattarget underrepresented minorities such as the Journal of Negro Education and the Journal ofDiversity in Higher Education. Others sources include Contemporary Educational Psychology,the Journal of Educational Review, and the Journal of College Student Development. Theanalysis examines the method to assess the identification with academics and the transferabilityof the results (or interpretation themes). The strengths and weakness of each method as reportedin the literature will be discussed in terms the accurate portrayal of the intersectionality amonginterpersonal and intrapersonal dimensions of identity for minority engineering students. Theanalysis will conclude with a summary of methods to provide a starting reference point forfaculty and staff who are interested in increasing the degree to which their minority engineeringstudents identify with academics and specifically with engineeringThe results provide insight tominority service programs to increase the degree to which their minority students identify withacademics.

Cross, K. J., & Paretti, M. C. (2012, June), Identification with Academics and Multiple Identities: Combining Theoretical Frameworks to Better Understand the Experiences of Minority Engineering Students Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21467

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