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Investigating the Role of Interaction, Attitudes, and Intentions for Enrollment and Persistence in Engineering among Underrepresented Minority Students

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Sandra Loree Dika University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Sandra Dika is Assistant Professor of research methods in the Department of Educational Leadership at UNC Charlotte. Her current research is focused on college access and success for underrepresented and underserved student groups in higher education.

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Miguel A. Pando University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Miguel A. Pando is currently an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), and was previously an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM). In addition to his research in Geotechnical Engineering on the topics of soil-structure interaction and engineering characterization of geomaterials, Dr. Pando has been actively involved in teaching and mentoring students at both UPRM and UNCC, including 14 undergraduate civil engineering students through the NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program. Examples of his recent and ongoing engineering education research projects include the development of a Bridge to the Doctoral Program to attract Latinos to geotechnical earthquake engineering (NSF-NEES), use of a multi-institutional classroom learning environment for remote geotechnical engineering education (NSF-TUES), as well as a mixed methods study of the role of student–faculty relationships in the persistence and retention of underrepresented minority students in engineering (NSF-RIGEE). For the past few years, he has co-led the “Engineering for Development Workers” summer study abroad course at UNCC, focused on undertaking Civil Engineering projects in rural communities in Andean Peru.

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Brett Tempest University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Brett Quentin Tempest is an Assistant Professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of North Carolina, Charlotte. His primary research area is in construction materials with special emphasis on concretes and incorporation of wastes and combustion residues in high performance structural materials. Tempest advises the International Service Club in the College of Engineering and recently returned from the group's first overseas trip to Peru.

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One of the most significant challenges facing engineering education in the United States is the persistent problem of inclusion and retention of certain racial and ethnic groups; particularly Blacks and Latinos. This poster presents results from a RIGEE-funded project whose aim is study how formal and informal interactions with engineering agents (professionals and faculty) influence attitudes and intentions of URM students for enrollment and persistence in engineering. The study employs a case study approach guided by a framework that incorporates social cognitive, social capital, and community cultural wealth theories.

As part of the two-year study, we administered questionnaires and conducted focus groups with first-year (new entrants) and junior and senior (persisters) engineering students at one college of engineering in a Predominantly White urban research university in the Southeastern US. Questionnaires were open to all engineering students, while focus groups were open to only students who identified as Black and/or Latino. The college of engineering at this institution enrolls over 2,500 students in programs in seven different undergraduate engineering programs. Black and Latino students make up small proportions of the overall engineering population (7% Black, 6% Latino), whose distribution varies significantly by engineering degree program. Women engineering students of color make up much higher proportions among their race/ethnicity groups (14%-15%) than their White counterparts (8%).

Data for the first-year case study were collected within the first 8 weeks of study (fall 2013). The six focus group participants were all male, and equally balanced by race/ethnicity. The participants in the questionnaire included 11 Black students (6 men, 5 women) and 18 Latino students (16 men, 2 women). Analysis of the data revealed three important themes: pre-college interactions with educators (particularly calculus teachers); limited early interactions with engineering faculty; factors that affect student-faculty interaction and faculty perceptions of students; desire and expectations for faculty to provide links to opportunities; and unique factors and barriers related to the nature and culture of engineering.

The persisters (junior and senior) case study include data from 41 students on the questionnaire (24 Black and 17 Latino), and a total of 18 participants in the focus groups - 6 women (3 Black, 3 Latina), and 12 men (7 Black, 5 Latino), collected during the 2014-15 academic year. We explore how these persisters use social capital and other forms of cultural wealth to achieve their goal of obtaining an engineering degree. Descriptive quantitative data indicate that persisters employ several types of capital. Focus group discussions revealed how persisters remain focused on their goal to become engineers despite barriers and challenges, use family as a source of support and motivation, and find support from faculty in the competitive culture of engineering.

The findings of these two case studies provide snapshots of Black and Latino students at two important stages of the engineering education process – initial enrollment and advanced study. Our final paper and poster will present research and practice recommendations for engineering educators.

Dika, S. L., & Pando, M. A., & Tempest, B. (2016, June), Investigating the Role of Interaction, Attitudes, and Intentions for Enrollment and Persistence in Engineering among Underrepresented Minority Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25490

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