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Succeeding as Engineering Majors: Cultural Ecology Theory and Perceptions of Within-Race Gender and Ethnicity Differences in Engineering Skills and Work Ethnic

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Minority Student Success

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1111.1 - 23.1111.11



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Paper Authors


Jennifer O Burrell Howard University

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Jennifer O. Burrell is a senior research associate for the Howard University Science, Engineering, & Mathematics (HUSEM) Education Research Center. Her research focuses on identifying and better understanding factors that contribute to the participation and success of students in STEM education and careers. She has expertise in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method research and program evaluation.

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Afiya C Fredericks Howard University


Lorraine N. Fleming Howard University

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Dr. Lorraine Fleming is a professor of civil engineering at Howard University. She has spearheaded a number of research and intervention initiatives to attract and retain underrepresented minorities, particularly African Americans, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and to improving the quality of engineering education for undergraduates. She is a Carnegie Scholar and a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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ASEE  2013:  MIND  Abstract  Submission  Topic/Session:  New  Research  and  Trends  for  Minorities  in  Engineering    What it takes to Succeed in Engineering: Black Males’ Beliefs about Gender and Ethnicity Stereotypes can negatively or positively impact students’ academic performance andpersistence. Racially homogenous education settings such as HBCUs are not devoid of deficitintellectual stereotyping of U.S.-born Black male students; further, the nature and function ofthese ideas about engineering students’ work ethic and skills may operate uniquely in racialhomogeneous settings. This paper utilizes Turner’s (1987) self-categorization theory (SCT), atheory that draws together the process of stereotyping and the processes of identity developmentand maintenance in order to determine how through the categorization of others (e.g. females andinternational students), Black male engineering students’ identity (i.e., social and personal)develops. As part of a mixed-method longitudinal study exploring student persistence, semi-structured focus groups were conducted with Black male undergraduate engineering students atan HBCU in the northeastern region of the U.S. The university from which the sample is drawnhas been a leader in producing engineers from underrepresented minority groups, particularlyAfrican Americans. Participants (N=15) were selected via random stratified sampling toparticipate in one of four focus groups. The final set of focus group themes was developed usingthe constant comparative method of the grounded theory approach (including both independentand consensus methods). The paper focuses on two themes: Engineering Student Skills and WorkEthic. Preliminary results reveal that even in a predominantly Black setting, U.S.-born Blackmales in engineering have their skills or work ethic questioned and compared to internationalBlack males and U.S.-born Black female students. For instance, Patrick states, “…African-ASEE  2013:  MIND  Abstract  Submission  Topic/Session:  New  Research  and  Trends  for  Minorities  in  Engineering    American women in the engineering building, most of them are focused. They have drive. I don’tknow why there is that drive compared to the African-American males.” They, however,attributed skills and work-ethic differences across gender and ethnicity to structural andopportunity deficits, such as insufficient pre-college preparation, rather than innate ability orintellectual deficiencies. Focus group data revealed that the negative burden of stereotypes facedby U.S.-born Black male engineering students were, in many ways, buffered by the presence ofBlack male professors. For example, Mark states, “Its inspiring to be around so many Blackprofessors that know their stuff and are brilliant in their fields.” Additionally, the focus groupdata revealed that a sense of social identity, tied to other Black engineers is a dominant buffer tothe challenges faced by Black engineering students. For instance, Ronald states, “Knowing thatyou have someone that knows your struggle helps you keep going.” This research presents an authentic perspective, creating opportunity for researchers tobetter understand the identity challenges that Black male engineering students at an HBCU faceaffecting their retention and graduation rates in engineering. Further, it contributes to stereotypetheory by bringing awareness to within-race stereotypes among Black students, their social andpersonal identities as underrepresented engineers, and the nature of self-categorization inpredominantly Black education contexts.

Burrell, J. O., & Fredericks, A. C., & Fleming, L. N. (2013, June), Succeeding as Engineering Majors: Cultural Ecology Theory and Perceptions of Within-Race Gender and Ethnicity Differences in Engineering Skills and Work Ethnic Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22496

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