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Social Belonging Among Engineering Students in Early Required Courses

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2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 14, 2019

Start Date

April 14, 2019

End Date

April 22, 2019

Conference Session

Track: Collegiate - Technical Session 7

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Collegiate

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Blue Miami University

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Jennifer Blue is an Associate Professor of Physics at Miami University. She works to give more people access to physics. Sometimes that’s reforming the curriculum for introductory classes, sometimes it’s working with K-12 science teachers, and sometimes it’s advocating for traditionally excluded populations, including women in STEM. Her website can be found here:

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Amy Summerville Miami University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Summerville is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Miami University. She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Summerville is a social psychologist whose research examines how thoughts of "what might have been" affect emotion, motivation, and behavior. She is the PI of a grant from NSF's EEC division investigating new interventions in engineering education that utilize social cognitive psychology.

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Brian P Kirkmeyer Miami University

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Brian Kirkmeyer is the Karen Buchwald Wright Senior Assistant Dean for Student Success and Instructor in the College of Engineering and Computing at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. His background includes BS, MS and PhD degrees in Materials Science and Engineering (specialization in polymers), the former from Purdue University and the latter two from the University of Pennsylvania. He has work experiences in automotive electronics (Delphi Automotive Systems) and consumer products (International Flavors and Fragrances) prior to his current role. He served on the executive committee of the ASEE Women in Engineering division from 2010 to present.

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A sense of social belonging appears to be a crucial factor in student success and retention in STEM [1,2]. As part of a larger NSF-funded project, we collected data about students’ perceived social belonging in the department for a physics course and a programming course taken by the majority of engineering majors in their first year. Students completed four surveys: in the first two weeks of the semester, after the first exam (approximately 6-8 weeks into the semester), approximately one month later, and in the last two weeks of the course. (Data from the last two weeks of the course are still being aggregated and will be reported in the full paper.) Across both courses, students reported a decrease in belonging over time: regressing standardized belongingness on the measurement time point (coded as 0, 1, and 2) nested within student revealed a significant negative slope, B = -0.13, F(1, 216.94) = 6.15, p = 0.01. We examined whether this pattern differed for several historically marginalized groups: women, non-white students, first generation students, and/or low-income students. Female students reported marginally less social belonging than their male peers overall, B = -0.27, F(1, 203.91) = 2.95, p = 0.09. Comparing belonging at each time point suggested that this difference was primarily due to a difference in belonging during the intake survey (Ms = 4.88 vs. 4.66, t(136.34) = 1.89, p = 0.06, d = 0.30); male and female students did not differ significantly in reported belonging in the department at other time points (p > 0.39, d < 0.18). Other groups did not differ in overall belonging from their majority peers (all B < 0.35, p > 0.10). The rate of change in belonging across time did not differ for any demographic groups (all p > 0.20). These results are encouraging in that they suggest that students from historically marginalized backgrounds do not feel less belonging than their peers, but concerning in that belonging generally decreased across the semester. Additionally, it is problematic that female students felt less belonging, particularly early in the semester.

[1] T.L. Strayhorn, College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge, 2012. 
 [2] K.F. Osterman, “Students’ need for belonging in the school community,” Rev. Educ. Res., vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 323–367, 2000. 

Blue, J., & Summerville, A., & Kirkmeyer, B. P. (2019, April), Social Belonging Among Engineering Students in Early Required Courses Paper presented at 2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity , Crystal City, Virginia.

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