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Making the Funds of Knowledge of Low Income, First Generation (LIFG) Students Visible and Relevant to Engineering Education

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1127.1 - 26.1127.16



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Paper Authors


Jessica Mary Smith Colorado School of Mines

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Jessica M. Smith is the Hennebach Assistant Professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines. An anthropologist by training, she specializes in corporate social responsibility in energy and extractive industries and is beginning new research about engineering education and socioeconomic class. She is the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2014), and her research appears in the journals American Anthropologist; Science, Technology and Human Values; Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society; Society & Natural Resources; WorkingUSA: Journal of Labor and Society; and Anthropology Today.

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Juan C. Lucena Colorado School of Mines

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Juan Lucena is Professor and Director of Humanitarian Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM). Juan obtained a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech and a MS in STS and BS in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). His books include Defending the Nation: U.S. Policymaking to Create Scientists and Engineers from Sputnik to the ‘War Against Terrorism’ (University Press of America, 2005), Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (Morgan &Claypool, 2010, and Engineering Education for Social Justice: Critical Explorations and Opportunities (Springer, 2013).

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Though engineering is often perceived as a pathway of upward mobility in the UnitedStates, very little is known about the experiences of undergraduate engineering studentswho come from low-income backgrounds or are the first in their families to attendcollege. The scant research that does exist about low income, first generation students(LIFGs) is grounded in a deficiency model, focusing on what these students lack. Ourproject breaks with the existing scholarship by identifying the ways in which LIFGknowledges and experiences outside the classroom, including the practical knowledgethey develop in their lives and at work, could offer innovative ways for all students todefine, solve and design for pressing engineering problems. Through ethnographic andcollaborative research with LIFGs at a public engineering university and a communitycollege, we identify students’ funds of knowledge, or the knowledge gained fromstudents’ family and cultural backgrounds, that is crucial to engineering innovation butneglected in the curriculum they encounter in college. These funds of knowledge includedefining and solving problems in the midst of financial and material scarcity; building,fixing, and adapting technical artifacts and systems; and empathizing with marginalizedgroups and communities. We suggest that these knowledges position LIFGs as effectiveinnovators of engineering design for community development, though few pursue thispath because of financial constraints. Finally, we identify future pathways of thisexploratory research, including a) an international collaboration investigating the role ofsocioeconomic class for teaching and learning about engineering design and communityengagement; b) a mentoring program between the engineering university and communitycollege under study, including a university outreach program to assist LIFGs enhancetheir résumés; and c) strategies to bring LIFG funds of knowledge into engineeringscience and design courses.

Smith, J. M., & Lucena, J. C. (2015, June), Making the Funds of Knowledge of Low Income, First Generation (LIFG) Students Visible and Relevant to Engineering Education Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24464

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