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Is This Good For Me?": Exploring the Experiences of Black Engineers in Leadership

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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

LEAD Technical Session 1: Fostering Leadership Identity Development and DEI in Engineering Students and Professionals

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Katreena Thomas Arizona State University, Polytechnic Campus

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Katreena Thomas is a Ph.D. student at Arizona State University in the Engineering Education Systems Design doctoral program. She is a member of the Coley Shifting Perceptions, Attitudes, and Cultures in Engineering (SPACE) Lab research group. She also serves as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Intern for the Journal of Engineering Education. Her research interests include broadening participation in engineering, engineering leadership, and experiential opportunities in engineering. Her dissertation explores the experiences of early-career Black engineers and engineering students engaged in leadership. She received her B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and her M.S. in Human Systems Engineering from Arizona State University. Before starting her graduate studies, she worked in industry in operations as a manager. Katreena is committed to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusivity and hopes that her work will impact the culture and environment of the engineering education ecosystem.

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Engineering leadership is an emerging research area in engineering education well-aligned with recent attention to the production of both leaders and diverse engineers. While engineering leadership studies have highlighted elements, skills, traits, and/or competencies required in the pursuit and execution of leadership, we are limited by a lacking focus in the current work to also consider marginalized engineers' leadership experiences. This traditional approach to understanding leadership binds our ability to fully explore engineering leadership as investigations have occurred in absence of considerations of the ways identity also factors into experiences of leadership. Through this work, we wish to simultaneously consider the perspectives of individuals from marginalized groups in engineering—here Black students—as they embark in leadership. Specifically, we consider the experiences of early-career Black engineers in leadership, who are in their final year of completing their B.S. degree or within five years after completing their undergraduate degrees. This study was guided by the research question: What are the experiences of early-career Black engineers that shape their leadership identity? Komives' Leadership Identity Development Model and McGee's Stereotype Management Theory were used as conceptual and theoretical lenses, respectively, for this work. The stories of leadership were gathered through narrative interviews of five early-career Black engineers. The findings of these interviews created an understanding of the duty and responsibility that these leaders associated with their roles; revealed a perceived “sacrifice” of their salient identities for the sake of their engineering identity, and provided insight into recognition of the role of the environmental context in which their leadership occurs as contributory to the shaping of how their leadership is actualized. The results of this work can encourage engineering institutions, organizations, and enterprises to consider how leadership is conceptualized and actualized for Black engineers in their respective contexts. Our research is a first attempt to intentionally consider how identity impacts the pursuit and execution of leadership and development of leadership identity. Such considerations have the potential to foster the intentional development of leadership development programs and initiatives for engineers that incorporate the unique perspectives and experiences of Black engineers, and those from groups traditionally underrepresented and marginalized in engineering, in general, to lead to the simultaneous production of more diverse engineers and engineering leaders.

Thomas, K. (2022, August), Is This Good For Me?": Exploring the Experiences of Black Engineers in Leadership Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--40463

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