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The Influence of Racial and Mathematical Identities on African American Male Engineering Transfer Students

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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

26.1553.1 - 26.1553.12



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Paper Authors


Olgha B. Davis North Carolina State University

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Olgha B. Davis is currently a doctoral candidate at the department of Leadership, Policy, and Adult and Higher Education at North Carolina State University. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University and worked in industry for 7 years prior to returning to graduate school. She earned her Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from North Carolina State University and the University of Chapel Hill. Ms. Davis’ doctoral research focuses on racial and mathematical identities constructs and how they influence African American male engineering transfer students’ academic experiences.

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ABSTRACTIn 2012, African American male (AAM) students made up 4% of the currently enrolled malecollege students in engineering according to the National Science Foundation (2012). AAMstudents often begin their higher education journey at community colleges. According to the2011 American Association of Community Colleges report, 44% of African American studentsattend community colleges. Many community college students hope to transfer into 4-yearinstitution to complete a baccalaureate degree.There is a desire and determination to facilitate student transfer from community colleges into 4-year institutions. That being acknowledged, it is hard to miss the deficit lens through whichAAM student populations are viewed. AAM students are often portrayed as victims; blamed fortheir lack of success, persistence to degree, or not transferring to a 4-year institution; orportrayed as academically underprepared and require taking academic developmental courses(Davies, Safarik, & Banning, 2003; & Middleton, 2003). These unsuccessful performancesprojected blame or fault on the individual students due to delaying their academic goalsattributed to economical and personal obligations.This research critically explores some pathways of AAM engineering transfer students throughthe conceptual lens of racial and mathematical identities. This work focuses on students who arecurrently enrolled at 4-year institutions and who have attended community colleges at one pointin their academic careers in the pursuit of engineering degrees.Racial identity development research literature indicates that racial identity is based on anindividual’s perception that is shared by a common racial heritage with a particular group (Cross,1991; DeCuir-Gunby, 2009; Helms, 1990; Sellers, Rowley, Chavous, Shelton, & Smith, 1997).Research shows that African American students who have a strong racial identity are betterequipped to navigate negative climates, deal with racism, and tend to have strong self-esteem(Bowman & Howard, 1985; McGee, 2009; Rowley & Moore, 2002; Sanders, 1997).Mathematical identities are constructs that look at the individual’s beliefs, attitudes and feelingstowards mathematics (Boaler, 2002; Edwards, 2010; Grootenbower & Zevenbergen, 2008).These identities describe the student’s ability to perform mathematics and how the student’sexperience learning mathematics as a process where the classroom environment is treated as abroad context. Cultural models are often used to represent mathematical identity constructs,such as “math is hard” and “math is for geeks” (Edwards, 2010). These cultural models canenhance or hinder student’s relationship with mathematics (Edwards, 2010; Boaler, 2002).The theoretical significance of this work is to tighten existing literature gaps in underrepresentedstudents at community colleges and transfer students into 4-year institutions. It also contributesto the racial and mathematical identities constructs; and provides practical significance with thepotential to increase engineering enrollment in 2- and 4-year institutions, increaseunderrepresented participants’ understanding and awareness of their own racial andmathematical identities, and inform and improve professional development of math educators inacademic settings.This work will consist of an exhaustive review of peer-reviewed journals and scholarly researchwork related to AAM engineering transfer students, with a major focus on racial andmathematical identity constructs. Major themes and sub-themes that run through these articleswill be discussed in detail in this work to bring meaning and closer answers to the question ofhow do racial and mathematical identities shape the transfer experience of African Americanengineering male students who attend 4-year institutions. The author will include their owncritique of this body of literature.

Davis, O. B. (2015, June), The Influence of Racial and Mathematical Identities on African American Male Engineering Transfer Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24890

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