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Recognizing Engineering Students’ Funds of Knowledge: Creating and Validating Survey Measures

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 8: Survey and Instrument Development

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Dina Verdin Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Dina Verdín is a Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Education and M.S. student in Industrial Engineering at Purdue University. She completed her B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering at San José State University. Dina is a 2016 recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship and an Honorable Mention for the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program. Her research interest focuses on changing the deficit base perspective of first-generation college students by providing asset-based approaches to understanding this population. Dina is interested in understanding how first-generation college students author their identities as engineers and negotiate their multiple identities in the current culture of engineering.

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Jessica Mary Smith Colorado School of Mines

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Jessica M. Smith is Associate Professor in the Engineering, Design & Society Division at the Colorado School of Mines and Co-Director of Humanitarian Engineering. She is an anthropologist with two major research areas: 1) the sociocultural dynamics of extractive and energy industries, with a focus on corporate social responsibility, social justice, labor, and gender and 2) engineering education, with a focus on socioeconomic class and social responsibility. She is currently completing a book manuscript on the intersection of engineering and corporate social responsibility. She is the author of Mining Coal and Undermining Gender: Rhythms of Work and Family in the American West (Rutgers University Press, 2014), which was funded by the National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2016 the National Academy of Engineering recognized her Corporate Social Responsibility course as a national exemplar in teaching engineering ethics. Professor Smith holds a PhD in Anthropology and a certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Michigan and bachelor’s degrees in International Studies, Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Macalester College.

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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), Engineering Education for Social Justice: Critical Explorations and Opportunities (Springer, 2013), and Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice (with Jon Leydens) (IEEE-Wiley, 2018)

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Students who are the first in their families to attend college are a crucial but sometimes overlooked group in efforts to diversify engineering education. Our research seeks to understand what role, students’ funds of knowledge (FoK) make a difference in their undergraduate experiences. FoK are the set of formal/informal knowledge and skills that students learn through family, friends, and communities outside of academic institutions. This paper reports three findings 1) funds of knowledge themes that were developed using interview data of low income, first-generation college students in engineering, 2) the process of validating the funds of knowledge themes using exploratory factor analysis, and 3) a comparison of first-generation college students and continuing-generation college students funds of knowledge. Data for our study came from two sources. In our prior research study, interview data was collected of low-income, first-generation college students’ school and work experiences to identify the funds of knowledge that were the most relevant to their engineering work. Out of the 14 participants, 5 were women and 9 were men; 9 identified as white, 4 identified as Latino/a, and 1 identified as Native American. The interview data was used to develop seven major themes, each theme comprising of multiple survey questions. A second dataset was collected at two universities in the US south and mountain regions to validate the seven major themes and their respective survey questions. The pilot survey was completed by 186 students varying from first-year engineering students to fourth-year or higher, of which 32 were first-generation college students, 154 were continuing-generation college students, with 1 student not reporting parental level of education. The sample of first-generation college students is small but meets the minimum required sample size to run a comparative analysis. The major themes that emerged using interview dataset were: community networks, lived experiences, tinkering knowledge from home, tinkering knowledge from work, perspective taking, reading people, and translation among people. Using the pilot dataset of all students, an exploratory factor analysis was performed to mathematically verify the underlying theoretical structures among the themes. Lastly, Welch’s t-test was used to compare the mean differences between first-generation college students and continuing-generation college students on the funds of knowledge measures. Results of the exploratory factor analysis found that almost all items reliably loaded onto their respective constructs. Results from the Welch’s t-test revealed that first-generation college students were more likely to draw on previous experiences from their hobbies when little instruction was given to them on how to solve an engineering task (i.e., lived experiences). They were also more likely to have learned, at home, how to build, fix and work with machines and appliances (i.e., tinkering at home knowledge), were good at identifying other people’s concerns (i.e., reading people), and were more likely to serve as liaisons between people at work and supervisors, help others adjust to unfamiliar places/social situations, and help groups of people understand each other (i.e., translation among people). The funds of knowledge identified in this study are not an exhaustive account, nevertheless uncovering these hidden assets can support first-generation college students to see their experiences as equally valuable knowledge in engineering.

Verdin, D., & Smith, J. M., & Lucena, J. C. (2019, June), Recognizing Engineering Students’ Funds of Knowledge: Creating and Validating Survey Measures Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33226

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