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Key Sociocultural Influences Shaping Latinx Students’ Pathways to Engineering/CS: An Ethnographic Lens

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Erika Mein University of Texas at El Paso

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Dr. Erika Mein is an Associate Professor of Literacy/Biliteracy Education and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and Educator Preparation at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her scholarship focuses on disciplinary literacies in postsecondary contexts, with a particular emphasis on engineering identities and literacies among English Learners and bilingual students. Her research has been published in journals such as Theory into Practice, Action in Teacher Education, and Journal of Hispanic Higher Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Reading/Writing/Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and has been a faculty member at UTEP since 2008.

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Helena Mucino University of Texas, El Paso

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Helena Muciño is a Ph.D. student in the Teaching, Learning, and Culture program at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). She holds a master's degree in Musical Education Research from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She is currently working as a Research Assistant for an NSF-funded project at UTEP dedicated to broadening the participation of Latinx students in higher education.

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The underrepresentation of Latinx students in engineering and computer science across the pipeline – from undergraduate studies into the profession – remains a persistent challenge. Based on 2017 NSF reports, only 10.3% of engineering and computer science degrees in the U.S. were awarded to Latinx/Hispanics from 2004-2014 [1]. Similarly, a 2018 Pew report analyzing IPUMS data indicated that only 8% of the engineering workforce and 7% of computing, respectively, are comprised of Hispanics [2]. The present study utilizes an intersectional lens [3] to explore the professional identity formation and persistence of Latinx undergraduates in Mechanical Engineer/Computer Science (ME/CS) at a public, research-intensive university located on the US-Mexico border. Drawing on one year of intensive ethnographic data collection, this paper looks at a sub-set of nine ME/CS program completers to examine the key influences shaping their decision to pursue engineering/CS. The paper adopts a sociocultural framework for understanding students’ identities and pathways into engineering/CS education, contributing to a small but growing set of studies in this area [4], [5]. In particular, we draw on prior work in sociocultural identity studies in education to identify the identity resources [6] that help shape students’ decisions to pursue and persist in engineering. For the purposes of this paper, we focus on four of the most prominent sets of identity resources that emerged for this sub-set of students: affinity resources, aspirational resources, relational resources, and positional resources. We argue that the sociocultural focus on identity resources can provide an analytical lens for identifying and understanding elements of engineering/CS students’ academic and professional trajectories that enable or constrain their success in the major, as well as their subsequent persistence into and success in the profession. These findings, in turn, can help inform institutional recruitment and retention efforts to attract and retain Latinx in the field and profession.

[1] National Science Foundation, “Bachelor's degrees awarded, by field, citizenship, ethnicity, and race: 2004–14,” 2017, Available: [Accessed October, 14, 2018].

[2] N. Graff, R. Fry, & C. Funk, “7 Facts about the STEM Workforce,” January 9, 2018 [Online]. Available: ( [Accessed October 14, 2018].

[3] K. Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics,” Univ. Chic. Leg. Forum, vol. 1989, no. 1, pp. 139–167, 1989.

[4] K. L. Tonso, On the outskirts of engineering: learning identity, gender, and power via Engineering practice, 1st ed. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers, 2007.

[5] C. D. Allen and M. Eisenhart, “Fighting for desired versions of a future self: how young women negotiated STEM-related identities in the discursive landscape of educational opportunity,” J. Learn. Sci., vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 407–436, 2017.

[6] N. S. Nasir and J. Cooks, “Becoming a hurdler : How learning settings afford identities,” Anthropol. Educ. Q., vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 41–61, 2009.

Mein, E., & Mucino, H. (2019, June), Key Sociocultural Influences Shaping Latinx Students’ Pathways to Engineering/CS: An Ethnographic Lens Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33036

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