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The Impact of Personal Interactions on the Experience of African American Males on Multiracial Student Teams

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Moving the Needle: The Complexities of Race and Gender in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1545.1 - 26.1545.9



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Paper Authors


Kelly J. Cross Virginia Tech

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Ms. Cross earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University in 2007. She earned her Master’s of Science in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 2011. Ms. Cross is currently completing her studies in the Engineering Education PhD program at Virginia Tech and involved with multiple educational research projects with faculty and graduate students. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion, teamwork and communication skills, assessment, and identity construction.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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ASEE 2015 Abstract: MIND DivisionAfrican-American student’s experiences on multiracial engineering teamsTeam projects in engineering are critical sites for professional development as students interactwith peers and faculty on projects designed to simulate engineering work. These projects allowstudents to try on professional roles and establish a sense of identity within their field, which inturn influences retention through college and into a career. However, team projects can also be asource of conflict for students from underrepresented populations as their personal andprofessional identities intersect. While substantial research has identified challenges that womenface on mixed-gender teams, few researchers have focused on the experiences of African-Americans on multiracial teams; this study aims to fill that gap.This qualitative study employs a phenomenological approach, using a three-interview sequencewith 9 African-American male engineering students (average age = 19) across academic levels asthey worked on team projects at a large research-intensive, predominantly white institution(PWI). The team projects durations ranged from two weeks to two full semesters. The semi-structured interviews 1) gathered background information about participants, 2) exploredparticipants’ descriptions of the team functionality during the project, and 3) asked participantsto reflect on the experience in the context of their engineering education and identities.Following the practices of phenomenology, all three interviews for each participant weregrouped to holistically describe the “essence” of each participant’s experience. The essence ofthe participant’s experience is captured in the combination of the structural (what) and textural(how) descriptions of the phenomena by the key informants.Preliminary analysis suggests three emerging units of meaning for the student relative to theirmultiracial team experience: 1) participants’ level of racial identification varied significantly; 2)participants did not perceive their race as impacting their team experience, but did describe a“chilly climate” in the larger community (e.g., department, college, and campus); and 3)participants used multiple strategies to manage stereotype threat. First, participants’ racialidentification levels ranged from statements such as “my parents taught me not to see race” to “Iam an African-American.” Second, while most participants stated that their race did not impacttheir team experience, they did discuss feeling isolated in the larger community, including beingsingled out during a class lecture, being questioned for studying in the common area, and getting“dirty looks” while walking through department buildings or on campus. Discrimination was notverbalized, but participants “felt it” during interactions. As a result, students used multiplestrategies to manage how they experienced stereotype threat and made conscious decisions aboutwhen and how to address stereotypes. For example, the stereotype was addressed directly whenan opportunity presented itself, but it was ignored to promote the team progress other times. Theimplications of these emerging themes suggest that engineering educators must cooperativelywork to promote inclusion in addition to broadening participation. Interrogating our roles in whyand how African-American males perceive engineering education as “chilly” can decrease thesestudents feeling of being labeled “the odd man out.”

Cross, K. J., & Paretti, M. C. (2015, June), The Impact of Personal Interactions on the Experience of African American Males on Multiracial Student Teams Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24882

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015