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Underrepresented Minority Engineering Students’ Professional Experiences with Cooperative Education: Perceived Benefits, Drawbacks, and Pathways to Participation

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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

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Beata Johnson Purdue University

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Beata Johnson is a PhD student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her BS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University.

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Joyce B. Main Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Joyce B. Main is Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning, Teaching, and Social Policy from Cornell University, and an Ed.M. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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This study examines underrepresented minority students’ perceptions of cooperative education programs (co-ops), and how these perceptions (and other influences) are related to students’ decisions about whether to participate in co-ops. This study also examines current co-op students’ experiences, including identified benefits and drawbacks of co-op participation. Eight African American, Latinx, and Pacific Islander engineering students (three co-op, one applicant, and four non-co-op) were interviewed about their co-op perceptions and experiences. Both co-op and non-co-op students highlighted depth of experience as a strong benefit of co-ops. Students differed in their decisions about whether to pursue co-ops based on how they ranked the relative significance of the characteristics of co-ops and internships. Students described how minority engineering organizations provided them with information about co-ops and influenced their expectations and decisions.

Research findings could help inform institutions, offices of professional practice, and student advisors on how to describe the benefits of co-op participation and address potential student concerns. The findings suggest that minority organizations play a key role in providing information and influencing students’ decisions. University programs and advisors can help students make informed decisions about undergraduate work experiences by understanding the sources and types of information that students seek and value. This work also contributes to broader understanding in engineering around the potential role of co-ops in efforts to broaden participation and increase retention of underrepresented minority students in the engineering profession.

Johnson, B., & Main, J. B. (2019, June), Underrepresented Minority Engineering Students’ Professional Experiences with Cooperative Education: Perceived Benefits, Drawbacks, and Pathways to Participation Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33474

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