June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
June 19, 2019
Educational Research and Methods
This research paper explores how engineering undergraduates change their understanding of professional expectations from the first year to near graduation, and whether that understanding varies across gender, race, and/or ethnicity of students. We investigate these questions by analyzing semi-structured, qualitative interview transcripts from 37 engineering undergraduates, who were either in their first semester or in the second semester of their junior year or later. Students were selected purposively, with over samples of women and black/African American and Hispanic students.
In their first semester, students emphasized an academic and pre-professional culture that principally values academic performance, which they viewed mostly as a sink-or-swim, weeding out process. Advanced students, in contrast, emphasized the importance of skills such as teamwork and collegiality over grades for professional formation. Students explain both academic performance and the development of other professional skills as fundamentally meritocratic: underrepresentation of women and some racial and ethnic groups in engineering majors and in the engineering profession were viewed as personal choice or inability to do the necessary work. These narratives are widespread among students, despite the different preparation levels among first year students and the fact that many women and students of color report first and second hand discriminatory experiences before they graduate. We thus suggest that a “color-blind” and gender-blind undergraduate professional culture is constructed by students to obfuscate inhospitable climates and persistent structural challenges for women and students of color.
Figueroa, M. A., & Bates, D. C., & Gazley, J. L., & Wagner, C., & Schreiner, S., & Sepahpour, B. (2019, June), Professional Expectations and Program Climate Affect the Professional Formation of Engineers Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33195
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