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PhD’ing While Black: Unpacking the Emotions of Navigating Engineering as a Black Student and the Implications for Mental Health

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Conference

2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)

Location

New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 8 - Paper 2: PhD’ing While Black: Unpacking the Emotions of Navigating Engineering as a Black Student and the Implications for Mental Health

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

Page Count

15

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/39134

Download Count

65

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Paper Authors

biography

Michael Lorenzo Greene Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Michael Greene is a PhD student in the Engineering Educations Systems and Design program at Arizona Sate University, Polytechnic Campus.

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Brooke Charae Coley Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Brooke Coley, PhD is an Assistant Professor in Engineering at the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Dr. Coley is Principal Investigator of the Shifting Perceptions, Attitudes and Cultures in Engineering (SPACE) Lab that aspires to elevate the experiences of marginalized populations, dismantle systematic injustices, and transform the way inclusion is cultivated in engineering through the implementation of novel technologies and methodologies in engineering education. Intrigued by the intersections of engineering education, mental health and social justice, Dr. Coley’s primary research interest focuses on virtual reality as a tool for developing empathetic and inclusive mindsets among engineering faculty. She is also interested in hidden populations in engineering education and innovation for more inclusive pedagogies.

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Katreena Thomas Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-1376-3299

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Katreena Thomas is a graduate student at Arizona State University in the Engineering Education Systems and Design Doctoral program. She is a member of the Shifting Perceptions, Attitudes, and Cultures in Engineering (SPACE) Lab group and her research interests include broadening participation in engineering, engineering leadership, and experiential learning experiences in engineering. 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.

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Julia Machele Brisbane Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-9580-0646

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Julia Brisbane is a Ph.D. student in the Engineering Education Department at Virginia Tech and an M.S. student in the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences Engineering. She received her Bachelors of Science in Bioengineering from Clemson University. She was previously an undergraduate research assistant in Clemson University's Engineering and Science Education Department. Her research interests include undergraduate research experiences, broadening participation in engineering, and biomedical engineering education.

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Debalina Maitra Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

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Debalina Maitra is a Post-doctoral Research Associate at ASU. Prior to her current role, Debalina Maitra was employed by CAFECS (Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science), a NSF-funded Research Practice Partnership, for almost two years. She completed her Ph.D. in Literacy Education in 2017 with a minor in Qualitative Research Methods. Her research interests are equitable pedagogy, racial equity, culturally relevant pedagogy, and identity. Her latest work at ASU focused on exploring the racial identity of Black engineering students while navigating their professional space and exploring the transition of marginalized students from community college to higher academia and professional fields.

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Jeremi S London Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Jeremi London is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering Education Department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. London is a mixed methods researcher with interests in research impact, cyberlearning, and instructional change in STEM Education. Prior to being a faculty member, London worked at the National Science Foundation, GE Healthcare, and Anheuser-Busch. She earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in Industrial Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Abstract

Introduction: Mental health has become an emergent issue across the United States, especially with respect to graduate students. Graduate students are often faced with a wide variety of academic, professional, and personal challenges across their academic journeys that can impact their persistence in their graduate programs. In their study of graduate student mental health, Hyun, Quinn, Madon, and Lustig demonstrated that many graduate students express negative emotional responses to stress that impact their wellbeing and academic performance. Black graduate students in engineering deal with additional scrutiny, such as microaggressions, racism, and other racialized experiences throughout their journey. These challenges often exacerbate the effects of negative emotional responses, especially when aspects of their identity threatened. The purpose of this study is to understand the experiences of Black graduate students in engineering and the emotions associated with those experiences, addressing the research questions: What are the emotions associated with navigating engineering as described by Black graduate students? What might be implications for Black graduate student mental health based on the emotions described? Theoretical Framework: This work is anchored in Linnenbrick-Garcia and Pekrun’s Circumplex Model of Affect framework, where emotions are categorized according to the intersection of affect and activation. Affective states, or dimensions of valence, are emotions or moods and can be described as positive (or pleasant) or as negative (or unpleasant). Activation refers to energy, or stimulation, and can be expressed cognitively and/or physiologically. Using the Circumplex Model of Affect provides insight to the valence and activation of emotions which will enable a deeper insight into the emotions experienced. Situated in knowledge that negative affect, high activation emotions contribute to cognitive overload, which directly impacts mental health, learning more about experiences of Black students navigating engineering and their associated emotions could add to our understanding of macrolevel influences in their experiences while identifying opportunities to better support Black students’ success through structures, policies, and resources. Methods: This study adopted narrative interview methods to capture the lived experiences of Black graduate students in engineering with a focus on identifying the emotions associated with their stories. The inclusion criteria for this study required participants identify as Black, be enrolled in an accredited doctoral engineering program, and have engaged in either the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and/or Black Greek Letter Organizations (BGLOs) as an undergraduate student. A total of 5 individuals (Female, n= 3; Male, n= 2) participated in this study. Emotion coding was used for the first-cycle coding method in efforts to capture both the explicit and implicit emotions expressed in participants’ narrative recounts of their experiences in engineering. Emotion coding uses an inductive approach to apply emotions to excerpts as participants describe their experience. Aspects such as tone, verbiage and expressions were used to identify emotions that were not directly verbally communicated. Between the first and second cycle of coding, the technique of code mapping was utilized to categorize the raw emotions from the stories into appropriate categories as a means of organizing similar data. The research team reviewed and coded the transcripts and then discussed the code applications collectively to confer on agreement regarding the code application and interpretation of the emotions. Finally, the Circumplex Model of Affect was applied as a structural coding technique to properly classify the emotion categories with respect to activation energy (high or low) and valence (positive or negative). Once the emotions were classified, the stimuli surrounding the emotions were analyzed and themes were presented regarding the emotional navigation of engineering for Black graduate students. Findings: The findings of this study demonstrated engineering to be experienced in unique ways depending on the settings and student involved, which ultimately led to variable perspectives and expressions of emotions across the participants. Across all of the participant stories, there was a plethora of emotions expressed both explicitly and implicitly. A total of 44 distinct emotions were identified across the experiences of the participants, which were then separated into four categories via the Circumplex Model: (+,+)*, high-activation with positive valence (8), (-,+)*, low-activation with positive valence (8), (+,-)*, high-activation with negative valence (17), and (-,-)*, low-activation with negative valence (11). Negative valence emotions were more prevalent across the stories of the Black engineering graduate students, accounting for over 60% of the emotions identified in their stories. And more, when activation energy and affect are simultaneously considered, the number of high-activation, negative affect emotions greatly outweigh the number of low activation, negative affect emotions. Discussion and Implications: This study explores the range of emotions that Black graduate students experience while navigating engineering academic environments. We found the greatest frequency of emotions to be those categorized as high activation, negative affect, the most negatively impactful of the categorized emotions. Enduring high-activation, negative emotions over time can have implications for anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns, due to their high energy cost. While researchers have explored the effect of emotions for the general engineering population, Black engineering doctoral students navigate engineering spaces unlike their majoritarian counterparts. The disaggregation of these stories helps to elucidate the lived emotions of these students, and how they differ based on their perceptions of the experience This study warrants continued investigation into emotions and their link to mental health for Black engineering graduate students. Consideration of mental health is critical and rooted in effective efforts to broaden participation in engineering, which rests in better understanding of Black students’ experiences in engineering as reflective of its normalized culture. At the core of these efforts is the goal of promoting accountability through the elucidation of opportunities for macrolevel structures to support and provide what is needed for all students’ success. This could include revisiting institutional policies, incorporating sensitivity training goals for faculty, and further investigation into student and faculty interactions. Future work will involve discussion of the greater implications of how these emotions impact students’ mental health and trajectories as well as deeper investigation of the critical incidents eliciting significant emotional responses.

Greene, M. L., & Coley, B. C., & Thomas, K., & Brisbane, J. M., & Maitra, D., & London, J. S. (2022, February), PhD’ing While Black: Unpacking the Emotions of Navigating Engineering as a Black Student and the Implications for Mental Health Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39134

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: © 2022 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