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Students’ Perceptions of their Engineering Identity Development and REU Summer Program Experiences: An Equity-Centered Analysis

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

ERM: Engineering Identity: (Identity Part 1)

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Paper Authors


Ciera Fluker

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Ciera Fluker (she/her/ella) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education program at Florida State University. Her research interests are centered on issues of access and success among Black and Latinx students in Higher Education. Her current research focuses on the experiences of Latinx students in Engineering.

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Lara Perez-Felkner

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Dr. Lara Perez-Felkner is an Associate Professor of Higher Education and Sociology in the Higher Education Program within the College of Education at Florida State University. Her research uses developmental and sociological perspectives to examine how young people’s social contexts influence their college and career outcomes. She focuses on the mechanisms that shape entry into and persistence in institutions and fields in which they have traditionally been underrepresented. In particular, she investigates racial-ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic disparities in post-secondary educational attainment and entry to scientific career fields. Published work appears in journals including: About Campus, Developmental Psychology, Frontiers in Psychology, International Journal of Educational Development, Journal of Higher Education, Journal of Latinos and Education, and Teachers’ College Record, as well in several edited volumes. She has been supported by external funders including the National Science Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. At Florida State University, she has been a member of the APLU iChange ASPIRE alliance team and the President’s Taskforce for Diversity and Inclusion. She is currently putting equity work into practice in research as a Student Experience Research Network (SERN) Mid-Career Fellow and Institute in Critical Quantitative, Computational, & Mixed Methodologies (ICQCM) NSF Quantitative Critical Methodologies Scholar.

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Kiaira McCoy Florida A&M University - Florida State University

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Kiaira McCoy is a Doctoral Candidate in the Higher Education program within Florida State University’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, where she is also a Research Assistant in the Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS). Her research examines state, local, and institutional policies and practices focused on college readiness and success, emphasizing underrepresented student transitions and success within postsecondary institutions.

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In this research paper, we contribute to extensive research that suggests hostile racialized and gendered engineering climates can negatively affect students of color and women, as they often experience racial microaggressions, stereotype threat, isolation, exclusion, and feelings of not belonging. Research suggests providing historically marginalized and underrepresented students with opportunities to develop their engineering identity may improve their sense of belonging and confidence in their skills and abilities, especially when coupled with structured support through undergraduate research experiences and mentorship. Past research has examined engineering students’ participation in research experience undergraduate programs. Further, we contribute to the research literature with our focus on students’ experiences before they enter the program, which can shape their engineering identity development during their mentored undergraduate research training. We draw on a larger multi-year sequential explanatory mixed methods case study, and focus in this manuscript on the qualitative data and analysis. Employing a case study research approach, we use individual interview and survey data to examine five undergraduate students’ engineering identity development as it relates to their experiences in a ten-week mentored Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) summer internship program based at a Historically Black University. In this study, we assess the following research questions: (1) How do students make sense of their engineering identity in the context of their experiences in an REU summer internship program? (2) What academic and non-academic factors influence their engineering identity development? Milem et al.’s campus racial climate framework informs our study. This case study approach aligns with our conceptual framework as it allowed us to situate participants experiences and perceptions in their university context. Our study findings reveal students’ participation in the REU summer internship program positively affected their engineering identity development as students developed increased confidence in their ability to conduct research and pursue a career in engineering. Additionally, students’ interactions with mentors, faculty, peers, and community members seemed to influence their engineering identity development as well as their career and educational goals. Lastly, students’ described how their families—and in particular, their fathers—shaped their engineering identity development. Taken together, our study indicates the importance of students’ identities and supports as factors shaping their pathways through undergraduate research experiences and onward towards careers in these fields. Thus, structured mentorship opportunities including and beyond funded REU summer internship programs may encourage students to develop a plan to continue to develop STEM identities by participating in meaningful experiences and opportunities at their home institutions. Continued opportunities for personal and professional development may further create more equitable opportunities for students to develop. As such, grant funding and research opportunities may be allocated to creating more inclusive opportunities for undergraduates, even in the earlier stages of their studies, to aid in strengthening and support underrepresented STEM scholars’ pathways to engineering degrees and careers.

Fluker, C., & Perez-Felkner, L., & McCoy, K. (2022, August), Students’ Perceptions of their Engineering Identity Development and REU Summer Program Experiences: An Equity-Centered Analysis Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--40969

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