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Pre-College Interactions, Early Expectations, and Perceived Barriers: Are There Differences for Underrepresented Engineering Students?

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engaging Minority Pre-College and Transfer Students in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.993.1 - 24.993.10



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Paper Authors


Sandra Loree Dika University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Sandra Dika is Assistant Professor of research methods in the Department of Educational Leadership at UNC Charlotte. Her current research is focused on college access and success for underrepresented and underserved student groups in higher education.

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Miguel A. Pando University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Dr. Miguel A. Pando is currently an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), and was previously an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM). In addition to his research in Geotechnical Engineering on the topics of soil-structure interaction and engineering characterization of geomaterials, Dr. Pando has been actively involved in teaching and mentoring students at both UPRM and UNCC, including 14 undergraduate civil engineering students through the NSF Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program. Examples of his recent and ongoing engineering education research projects include the development of a Bridge to the Doctoral Program to attract Latinos to geotechnical earthquake engineering (NSF-NEES), use of a multi-institutional classroom learning environment for remote geotechnical engineering education (NSF-TUES), as well as a mixed methods study of the role of student–faculty relationships in the persistence and retention of underrepresented minority students in engineering (NSF-RIGEE). For the past three years, he has co-led the “Engineering for Development Workers” summer study abroad course at UNCC, focused on undertaking Civil Engineering projects in rural communities in Andean Peru.

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Brett Tempest University of North Carolina, Charlotte

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Pre-College Interactions, Early Expectations, and Perceived Barriers: Are There Differences for Underrepresented Engineering Students?One of the most significant challenges facing engineering education is the chronic problem ofinclusion and retention of underrepresented minority (URM) groups, including women, certainracial and ethnic groups (African American, Latino, Native American) and students whoseparents did not complete college (first generation college). This paper will present preliminaryresults from a project whose aim is study how formal and informal interactions with engineeringagents may influence attitudes and intentions of URM students for enrollment and persistence,incorporating retention, social cognitive, and social capital theories. The research question to beaddressed in the paper is how engineering students’ engineering-related interactions prior tocollege, perceived barriers during engineering studies, and early expectations of interactions withfaculty may differ based on student membership in an underrepresented group.The study utilizes a mixed methods design, incorporating both questionnaire and focus groupdata. The questionnaire items were developed by the researchers utilizing existing instruments onperceived barriers to education and engineering-related interactions and were included as part ofan annual questionnaire administered to the engineering freshman seminar at the institutionunder study. Seven items on likelihood to experience certain barriers (e.g., negative facultyattitudes, coursework difficulties) are rated from 1=strongly agree to 5=strongly disagree. Forseven items on engineering-related interactions (e.g., visiting an engineering workplace),students indicate all of the adults with whom they interacted from five possible options (e.g.,parent, teacher). About 47% of entering students responded to the questionnaire (n=255), andare generally representative of the population in terms of race/ethnicity and gender.Focus groups are ongoing with small groups of entering African American and Latinoengineering students. The focus group questions prompt discussion on what types ofencouragement and support students received from family and educators during middle and highschool to study engineering; expectations about interactions with professors prior to beginningclasses; actual interactions with professors in and outside of the classroom; and perceptionsabout factors that affect how students and professors interact. One focus group was completed inOctober 2013, and it is anticipated that an additional one or two focus groups will be completedby December 2013. The interviews will be transcribed for analysis of themes related to the majorresearch question.The paper will present statistical analyses of the differences in number of engineering-relatedinteractions prior to college and perceived barriers to engineering study, based on gender (malevs. female), generation in college (first generation vs. not first generation), and race/ethnicity(white vs. other race/ethnicity) using t-test comparisons. Themes from the focus group interviewsrelated to early expectations of interactions with professors and factors that affect how studentsand professors interact among first year African American and Latino engineering students willbe identified and illustrated through appropriate quotes from the focus group transcripts.The results of the larger study will serve to help improve engineering orientation and first-yearseminar experiences for URM and non-URM students, and to understand what types of pre-college interactions may be linked to engineering enrollment. 

Dika, S. L., & Pando, M. A., & Tempest, B. (2014, June), Pre-College Interactions, Early Expectations, and Perceived Barriers: Are There Differences for Underrepresented Engineering Students? Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22926

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