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The Influence of Background Characteristics on Socialization Processes in Engineering

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 10: Understanding Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Emma Brennan-Wydra University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Emma Brennan-Wydra is a research associate in the Office of the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Emma holds a master's degree from the University of Michigan School of Information and bachelor's degree in chemistry and women's, gender, and sexuality studies from Yale University.

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Joanna Mirecki Millunchick University of Michigan

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Joanna Mirecki Millunchick is a professor of materials science and engineering and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. She is active in both scientific and pedagogical research. Her educational research ranges from investigating the efficacy of virtual and augmented reality tools in teaching materials science, to studying the patterns of participation of undergraduates in co-curricular activities and research.

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Aaron W. Johnson University of Michigan

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Aaron W. Johnson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan. He received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014, after which he served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. Aaron also obtained a master's degree from MIT in 2010 and a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan in 2008, both in aerospace engineering.

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Cynthia J. Finelli University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cynthia Finelli is Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Associate Professor of Education, and Director and Graduate Chair for Engineering Education Research Programs at University of Michigan (U-M). Dr. Finelli is a fellow in the American Society of Engineering Education, a Deputy Editor of the Journal for Engineering Education, an Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education, and past chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of ASEE. She founded the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering at U-M in 2003 and served as its Director for 12 years. Prior to joining U-M, Dr. Finelli was the Richard L. Terrell Professor of Excellence in Teaching, founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Kettering University.

Dr. Finelli's current research interests include student resistance to active learning, faculty adoption of evidence-based teaching practices, the use of technology and innovative pedagogies on student learning and success, and the impact of a flexible classroom space on faculty teaching and student learning. She also led a project to develop a taxonomy for the field of engineering education research, and she was part of a team that studied ethical decision-making in engineering students.

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Trevion S. Henderson University of Michigan

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Trevion Henderson is a doctoral student in the Center for Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan. He recently earned his master's degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The Ohio State University while serving as a graduate research associate with the Center for Higher Education Enterprise. Trevion also hold's a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, where he served as a research assistant in the College of Education and Human Ecology Center for Inclusion, Diversity, and Academic Success.

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Students’ experiences in college, both in and out of the classroom, can have significant impact on their success later in life, yet not all students take full advantage of the opportunities available to them. In order to investigate how students experience and engage with the college environment and what kinds of effects these experiences may have on student outcomes, we developed a theoretical framework and survey instrument that expands on Weidman’s conceptual framework of undergraduate socialization. We examine the mechanisms by which student background characteristics interact with student experiences in college and contribute to particular academic and professional outcomes. Collegiate experiences consist of two major elements: socialization processes- methods students become integrated into the college community- and normative contexts- academic and social situations related to a student’s experience. Both of these act as mechanisms by which various outcomes, such as academic performance, professional identity, and social capital, are achieved.

The research question posed in this paper is: “how do background characteristics shape students’ socialization processes into engineering?” Our analysis uses two types of background characteristics: demographics and “college knowledge,” which refers to pre-college resources and experiences . While many variables were taken from institutional databases, data regarding an individual student’s college knowledge were included in the survey instrument.

The survey measured students' experiences with two types of socialization processes: institutional tactics--approaches to integrate new students shaped by the institution--and proactive behaviors--actions taken by the students’ own initiative. In order to measure these, we adapted scales from the literature (Ashford & Black; Ashforth et. al) to reflect the context of students entering a college of engineering, and validated them for internal consistency. We invited 4,022 third and fourth year undergraduate engineering students at a large public Midwestern R1 university to complete the instrument, and received a total of 998 responses.

We analyzed the relationships between the set of 20 background characteristics and 11 socialization processes by performing a series of stepwise backwards linear regressions. The results show that there are three demographic variables—gender, international student status, and first-generation college student status--associated with both institutional tactics and proactive behaviors. International students, for example, considered their process of entry into the college to be significantly more “formal,” and engaged in significantly more “positive framing” and “feedback-seeking” behaviors than their domestic peers. There are some variables that are only related either to institutional tactics or proactive behaviors . For instance, variables related to private college-going resources, such as having access to private tutoring or college admissions consultants, are associated with various types of proactive behaviors, but no institutional tactics.

These results suggest that underlying relationships exist between student background characteristics and how they experience socialization into the college. Understanding these relationships may help explain and predict student behaviors, experiences, and outcomes in college. This study may suggest the design of targeted interventions to improve the involvement of certain segments of the student population, thereby increasing the likelihood of their success.

S. J. Ashford and J. S. Black (1996). “Proactivity during organizational entry: The role of desire for control,” Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 81, no. 2, pp. 199–214, 1996.

B. E. Ashforth, D. M. Sluss, and A. M. Saks (2007), “Socialization tactics, proactive behavior, and newcomer learning: Integrating socialization models,” Journal of Vocational Behavior, vol. 70, no. 3, pp. 447–462.

J. C. Weidman (1989). Undergraduate socialization: A conceptual approach. Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, (Volume 5), pp. 289–322.

Brennan-Wydra, E., & Millunchick, J. M., & Johnson, A. W., & Finelli, C. J., & Henderson, T. S. (2019, June), The Influence of Background Characteristics on Socialization Processes in Engineering Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33402

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