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Negotiating Belongingness: A Longitudinal Narrative Inquiry of a Latina First-generation College Student’s Experience in the Engineering Culture

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Research on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Dina Verdín Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

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Dina Verdín, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education Systems and Design in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. She graduated from San José State University with a BS in Industrial Systems Engineering and from Purdue University with an MS in Industrial Engineering and PhD in Engineering Education. Her research broadly focuses on broadening participation in engineering by focusing on the issues of access and persistence. She uses asset-based approaches to understand minoritized students’ lived experiences (i.e., including first-generation college students and Latinx). Specifically, she seeks to understand how first-generation college students and Latinx students author their identities as engineers and negotiate their multiple identities in the current culture of engineering. Her scholarship has been recognized in several spaces, including the 2018 ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference Best Diversity Paper Award, 2019 College of Engineering Outstanding Graduate Student Research Award, and the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) Distinguished Scholar Award. Her dissertation proposal was selected as part of the top 3 in the 2018 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Division D In-Progress Research Gala.

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Research studies have long argued that a sense of belonging is essential for minoritized students’ continued engineering persistence. Common factors that have been found to promote a sense of belonging include campus diversity, institution’s culture, perceived class comfort, faculty interactions, and peer support. Yet, there is much to be understood about how nontraditional students' sense of belonging is promoted within the engineering culture. The purpose of this study is to understand how one Latina, first-generation college student, and a nontraditional student (i.e., age greater than 25, parental responsibilities, and part-time student) negotiated ways of belonging in engineering admits a culture that continuously denied her a sense of belonging. Specifically, we sought to answer the following research question, How did the engineering culture, classroom, and university environment impact Kitatoi’s sense of belonging? Data for this study came from five rounds of narrative interviews collected over a year and a half of one participant, Kitatoi. Kitatoi spent six years as a part-time community college student and has now completed one academic year at Research State University. Research State University is a Hispanic Serving Institution with a Carnegie Classification of highest research activity, with an enrollment of 41% Latinx undergraduate student population, 50% first-generation college students, and nationally praised for being a beacon of social mobility to students in the surrounding geographic area, specifically enrolling a large portion of Pell Grant eligible students than nearly every university in the country. The method used to analyze the interviews was an analysis of narratives; this method allows researchers to organize storied data into salient narrative threads, themes, and patterns across a participant’s experiences. We looked across five transcribed interviews, collected after completing each quarter, to understand common and salient experiences and relationships among the experiences. Reliability and validity were considered using the typology outlined in the quality management model. Kitatoi’s experiences were organized into four themes that were common across multiple interviews. Her sense of belonging was often (re)negotiated for the following reasons, 1) she was positioned at the outskirts of engineering despite the diverse campus environment, 2) instructors reproduced a particular way of being an engineer that left her struggling to feel a sense of belonging, 3) her ways of belonging were contested when juxtaposed with her peers, and 4) level of comfort and engagement increased as a result of switching from in-person classes to online classes. The findings from this analysis of narratives can continue to shed light on the ways minoritized students’ sense of belonging in engineering is disrupted even in a campus culture that is praised for its demographic diversity. Strategies for instructors to implement in their classrooms, framed to support nontraditional students, are outlined. As well, online teaching strategies are suggested in light of practices that fostered a sense of belonging for our participant.

Verdín, D. (2021, July), Negotiating Belongingness: A Longitudinal Narrative Inquiry of a Latina First-generation College Student’s Experience in the Engineering Culture Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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