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WIP: Assessing Community Cultural Wealth and Funds of Knowledge for Students Attending a Co-Op-Based Engineering Program

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Medley of Undergraduate Programming and Pedagogies

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Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Gretchen A. Dietz University of Florida

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Gretchen A. Dietz is a graduate student within Environmental Engineering Sciences at the University of Florida. Her research interests include diversity in engineering and qualitative methodologies.

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Leann Wishah University of Florida


Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences and Engineering Education, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. His research interests are in the areas of problem-solving, cultures of inclusion in engineering, engineering ethics, and environmental justice.

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Erica D. McCray University of Florida Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Erica D. McCray is an Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Florida. Prior to joining the faculty, she served as a special educator for students with behavioral and learning disabilities in Title I elementary and middle school settings. Dr. McCray has been recognized on multiple levels for her teaching and research, which focuses on diversity issues.

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This paper is a work in progress (WIP) exploring the experiences of students enrolled in an innovative engineering program which we will call the Bridge Academy. The Bridge Academy is a two-and-a-half-year upper division engineering program, designed for off-campus students. It is housed in the upper Midwest region of the United States. For the first semester, the Bridge program consists of an intensive on-campus experience with instructor-led and student-led competencies. Students spend subsequent semesters participating in a co-op anywhere in the world.

The inaugural cohort of the Bridge engineering program consisted of 25 students who began in August 2019. To investigate their experiences, our conceptual framework included: community cultural wealth (CCW) and funds of knowledge (Samuelson & Litzler, 2016; Smith & Lucena, 2016a, 2016b). CCW highlights the forms of capital, or cultural resources, available to marginalized students. Specifically, we focused on six types of capital: aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial, and resistant capitals (Yosso, 2005). Capital of the dominant group is used to “legitimize certain cultural norms and practices as superior” (Samuelson & Litzler, 2016, p. 95), thus CCW provides means of resistance for marginalized students. Funds of knowledge are “bodies of knowledge and skills that working class families possess to survive and make a living even in the midst of economic dislocations” (Smith & Lucena, 2016a, p. 200).

The data for this paper were collected through semi-structured interviews with the first Bridge cohort of students conducted at the beginning and end of their first semester in the program. Of the 19 students interviewed, three were women, one was Asian, two were Hispanic, one was Indigenous American, and 15 were White. Two participants had first-generation college status. We used CCW and funds of knowledge to understand the assets that the cohort of students in the Bridge Academy brought to and gained from the program. We found that the Bridge Academy provides and supports various forms of community cultural wealth for the participants. Many students displayed funds of knowledge and navigational capital in their choice of the Bridge program in order to limit debt compared to traditional education systems. Participants also displayed resistant capital in their choice of Bridge over traditional education because Bridge fit their learning preferences. Students gained social capital from their program peers through their living and learning community. Although the students brought in their individual funds of knowledge, they built a synergistic form of social capital through Bridge, further developing their funds of knowledge compared to what they might have experienced through traditional education. Although the students appear to represent a traditional engineering cohort according to standard demographic measures (race, gender, sexuality, first generation status), their prior life experiences, funds of knowledge, and use of CCW all position them as non-traditional. As described by a participant, the students’ “untraditional backgrounds” and “mutual understanding of struggling through life” is what makes them a “pretty unique” community.

References Samuelson, C. C., & Litzler, E. (2016). Community cultural wealth: An assets-based approach to persistence of engineering students of color. Journal of Engineering Education, 105(1), 93-117. Smith, J. M., & Lucena, J. C. (2016a). "How do i show them i'm more than a person who lift heavy things?" The funds of knowledge of low income, first generation engineering students. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 22(3), 199-221. Smith, J. M., & Lucena, J. C. (2016b). Invisible innovators: How low-income, first-generation students use their funds of knowledge to belong in engineering. Engineering Studies, 8(1), 1-26. Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91.

Dietz, G. A., & Wishah, L., & Douglas, E. P., & McCray, E. D. (2021, July), WIP: Assessing Community Cultural Wealth and Funds of Knowledge for Students Attending a Co-Op-Based Engineering Program Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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