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“Success is Different to Different People”: A Qualitative Study of How African-American Engineering Students Define Success

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

New Research & Trends for Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1722.1 - 22.1722.11



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Paper Authors


Quintin S. Hughes University of Oklahoma

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Quintin Hughes received both is B.S. (2004) and M.S. (2009) in Industrial Engineering from the University of Oklahoma. He received a Bridge to Doctorate graduate fellowship to fund his Master’s research, which was centered in Engineering Education and sought to understand the pre-college influences of successful African American engineering students. He is currently an Industrial Engineering doctoral student with the same emphasis in Engineering Education. His doctoral research will take a further look at identifying common success factors amongst successful African American engineering students. Quintin seeks to make his mark on the world via service in education and believes that exposure and enrichment of under-represented youth are the key ingredients to their advancement in the sciences.

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Randa L. Shehab University of Oklahoma

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Randa L. Shehab is Professor and director at the School of Industrial Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Since joining the OU IE faculty in 1997, she has taught courses in human factors and statistical analysis. Her research interests are in the areas of design for aging populations, human factors in intelligent transportation, and gender and racial/ethnic equity in engineering education.

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Susan E. Walden University of Oklahoma Orcid 16x16

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Susan E. Walden is the founding Director of the Research Institute for STEM Education (RISE) at the University of Oklahoma and the founding Associate Director of the Sooner Engineering Education (SEED) Center in the College of Engineering. Her research interests are in identifying factors contributing to equitable educational environments for all students in engineering programs and how to effectively use engineering for pre-college education.

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“Success is Different to Different People”: A Qualitative Study of How African American Engineering Students Define SuccessThere have been many calls to build the Nation’s STEM workforce by attracting and educatingmore students in academic STEM programs.1-4 Much of the emphasis has been placed onbuilding more diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fieldsby focusing attention and resources towards building equitable representation of STEMgraduates among under-represented groups.2, 3, 5 One potential pitfall to establishing morediversity in STEM fields may be a lack of understanding of the differences among our under-represented and under-served groups. In particular, it may be important to understand whether ornot there are differences in how under-represented minority (URM) engineering students definepersonal success as compared to majority engineering students. Understanding these potentialdifferences may enable university administrators and faculty to educate and support thesestudents in relevant ways that enhance their ability to succeed.This analysis was drawn from a larger study that employed interdisciplinary, mixed-methods toidentify factors contributing to the successful retention and graduation of under-represented andunder-served minority engineering students at a predominately white research institution. URMengineering students participated in face-to-face interviews designed to engage them in reflectionand discussion of their lived experiences as engineering students. From this larger data set, ademographically diverse set of 20 African American engineering students were sampled toaddress the research questions: How does self-defined success relate to academic performance ofsuccessful African American engineering students? What demographic factors contribute to howsuccess is defined?Responses were thematically categorized, numerically analyzed, and viewed through the lensesof social-cognitive and goal theories to more easily interpret the influence of differentiatingfactors in students’ definitions of personal success. The majority of engineering students’definitions centered on graduating college, overall happiness, career, family, or money, and mostdefinitions contained multiple themes. Though there was no apparent relationship betweenacademic performance and the definitions of success, relationships related to gender, parentaleducation, community size, and engineering discipline appeared to emerge.

[1] National Science Foundation, "The Science and Engineering Workforce: Realizing America's Potential," The Science and Engineering Workforce, Arlington, VA, 2003.[2] National Science Foundation, "Moving Forward to Improve Engineering Education," 2007.[3] National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, "NACME: Engineering Change 2007 Annual Report," 2007.[4] May, G.S., and D.E. Chubin, "A Retrospective on Undergraduate Engineering Success for Underrepresented Minority Students," Journal of Engineering Education Vol. 92, No. 1, 2003, pp. 27-39.[5] National Science Foundation, "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering," Arlington, VA, 2007.

Hughes, Q. S., & Shehab, R. L., & Walden, S. E. (2011, June), “Success is Different to Different People”: A Qualitative Study of How African-American Engineering Students Define Success Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17291

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