Asee peer logo

WIP: Unpacking the Black Box: How does a Cultural Engineering Student Organization Support the Persistence of Students of Color?

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Works in Progress II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Tasha Zephirin Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

visit author page

Tasha Zephirin is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She is an Executive Assistant for the National Association of Multicultural Program Advocates (NAMEPA) Inc. and has served as the Graduate Student Representative on the Purdue Engineering Advisory Council. Her research interests include exploring the role of noncurricular engineering education initiatives in the engineering experience, especially within and across cultural boundaries. Through this research, she aims to inform the development and evaluation of these initiatives in a variety of contexts.

visit author page


Brent K. Jesiek Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

visit author page

Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is an Associate Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He also leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and practice.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This is a work in progress paper. Many initiatives in the U.S. are designed to increase participation of individuals from underrepresented ethnic minority (URM) groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. In engineering, despite an increase in the enrollment of and degrees awarded to individuals from Hispanic/Latinx populations, the trends for Black, Native American, and Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander populations have remained relatively stagnant. As a result, research and evaluation of interventions that support the recruitment and retention of URM students have increased. However, few studies have investigated how and why specific intervention types influence recruitment and retention. Nuances of student experiences at the intersection of race, ethnicity, and gender are also underexplored as few studies disaggregate URM populations. A deeper understanding of the “who” and the “why” can help us identify specific factors that result in the biggest impact for students and what to consider when implementing initiatives in different contexts and settings.

Cultural engineering student organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) are a type of co-curricular initiative that provides support for students from traditionally underserved populations. Recent studies of local NSBE Chapters at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) show that Black engineering students who participate in such chapters achieve more equitable outcomes (e.g., graduation rates that meet or exceed the percentages of the total engineering cohort at their institution). However, further investigation is needed to provide empirical insights into how and why these kinds of outcomes occur.

This paper presents the preliminary analysis of three student interviews from a broader qualitative case study that explores how participation in a local chapter of NSBE at a PWI provides cocurricular support for engineering students. Coding was guided by research questions and two frameworks: 1) A Model of Cocurricular Support (MCCS) that focuses on how the chapter supports students’ integration into academic, social, professional, and university systems, and 2) Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) that focuses on how students have leveraged cultural capital through participation in the chapter. The preliminary analysis suggests an interplay between integration outcomes and cultural capital in forming a unique and essential community that supports the persistence and professional development of its student members.

This paper will be of interest to engineering educators and researchers, student affairs and program administrators. Results provide initial theoretical insights into how this chapter functions in the lives of members and why this chapter yields benefits perceived by study participants. Theoretical insights can 1) help us rethink traditional retention theories, grounded in institutional perspectives, from a student empowerment perspective and 2) inform retention theory development that accounts for the experiences of students of color. Insights can also inform the advising and operation of cultural engineering student organization chapters and how they can be best leveraged in broadening participation efforts.

Zephirin, T., & Jesiek, B. K. (2018, June), WIP: Unpacking the Black Box: How does a Cultural Engineering Student Organization Support the Persistence of Students of Color? Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31255

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: © 2018 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