Asee peer logo

Low-SES First-generation Students’ Decision to Pursue Engineering

Download Paper |


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

Understanding Our Students II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.907.1 - 25.907.15



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Michele L. Strutz Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Michele L. Strutz is a 2009 NSF Graduate Research Fellow and will graduate this summer with her Ph.D. in engineering education and a secondary doctoral focus in gifted and talented education from Purdue University. Strutz's research interests include stEm talent development and identification. Prior to completing her master’s degrees in gifted and talented education and in curriculum and instruction, Strutz worked as an engineer for 13 years in Laser Jet Printer product development and marketing at Hewlett Packard Co., computer systems design at Arthur Andersen & Co., sulfuric acid plant engineering at Monsanto, and traffic engineering in the City of Cincinnati. Her positions in the high-tech field stemmed from her undergraduate degrees in civil engineering and mathematics from Vanderbilt University. Contact information:

visit author page


Matthew W. Ohland Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Matthew W. Ohland is Associate Professor of engineering education at Purdue University. He has degrees from Swarthmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the University of Florida. His research on the longitudinal study of engineering students, team assignment, peer evaluation, and active and collaborative teaching methods has been supported by more than $11.6 million from the National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation and his team received the William Elgin Wickenden Award for the Best Paper in the Journal of Engineering Education in 2008 and multiple conference Best Paper awards. Ohland is Past Chair of ASEE’s Educational Research and Methods division and an At-large member the Administrative Committee of the IEEE Education Society. He was the 2002-2006 President of Tau Beta Pi.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Low-SES First-Generation Students’ Decision to Pursue Engineering“The ability of this nation to provide a growing economy, strong health and human services, anda secure and safe nation depends upon a vibrant, creative, and diverse engineering and scienceworkforce” (Blue, et al., 2005, p. 4). To address these global opportunities and challenges, andfor the U.S. to remain globally competitive, it is necessary for our engineering workforce to bediverse.Nevertheless, the U.S. cannot claim a diverse engineering workforce, and its engineering studentbodies are certainly not diverse despite the legislation and programs put in place to increaseracial, gender, and socioeconomic (SES) representation. Programs and resources that increaseracial and gender diversity in engineering have the advantage of creating an environment for thesocial interaction of people who have some shared experience as well as an interest inengineering. As a result, women and students of color in engineering have a variety of local andnational programs from which they might seek support. Low socioeconomic status is both lessvisible and more likely to be concealed, so there are few formal programs to support or mentorlow-SES students who want to pursue engineering. With an estimated projection of 1.67 millionengineers needed to support the U.S. job market by 2016, there is some urgency to betterunderstand how to encourage socioeconomic diversity in the engineering workforce and studentbodies.The purpose of this qualitative study is to give low-SES students an opportunity to share theirstories about the influences that prompted them to choose to study engineering. The researchquestion this study addresses is: What are the lived experiences of low-SES first-generationstudents who pursue engineering study? Specifically, what are the influences of low-SES first-generation students that inspired them to study engineering?This study used a phenomenological inquiry approach, purposive criterion sampling, anddescriptive and topical coding. Interviews were semi-structured, and consisted of open-endedquestions. Transcripts were coded to identify general and unique themes that will be explored inthe paper. Whereas family nurturers had a strong influence on college aspiration and attendance,encouragers with knowledge of engineering (who were not necessarily family members)particularly influenced these students to pursue engineering. Although the lack of engineeringrole models in the media has long been cited as an issue in the recruitment of students toengineering, the students in this study reported strong influence from television shows, books,and the internet. There was also evidence that some students developed an interest in engineeringthrough extracurricular activities. A desire to escape low-SES circumstances through anengineering career was a strong influence among the participants.

Strutz, M. L., & Ohland, M. W. (2012, June), Low-SES First-generation Students’ Decision to Pursue Engineering Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21664

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015