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Work in Progress: An Intersectional Conceptual Framework for Understanding How to Measure Socioeconomic Inequality in Engineering Education

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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 24: Studies on Socioeconomic Status

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Justin Charles Major Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Justin C. Major is a third-year Engineering Education Ph.D student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at Purdue University. Prior to graduate school, he completed Bachelor's degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and Secondary Mathematics Education at the University of Nevada, Reno with a focus on K-12 Engineering Education. Justin's current research focuses on the storied experiences of socioeconomically disadvantaged students at intersections of race/ethnicity, class, and gender in engineering education.

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Allison Godwin Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Allison Godwin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development. Dr. Godwin graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education. Her research earned her a National Science Foundation CAREER Award focused on characterizing latent diversity, which includes diverse attitudes, mindsets, and approaches to learning, to understand engineering students’ identity development. She has won several awards for her research including the 2016 American Society of Engineering Education Educational Research and Methods Division Best Paper Award and the 2018 Benjamin J. Dasher Best Paper Award for the IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference. She has also been recognized for the synergy of research and teaching as an invited participant of the 2016 National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium and the Purdue University 2018 recipient of School of Engineering Education Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the 2018 College of Engineering Exceptional Early Career Teaching Award.

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This work-in-progress explores the development of an intersectional conceptual framework to fairly and validly measure socioeconomic status in the engineering education context.

We cannot equitably broaden access to a historically white male engineering without acknowledging that socioeconomic status is a considerably important, often invisible, category of diversity that adversely affects women, communities of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community. In the last century, there have been countless attempts to quantitatively measure socioeconomic status using a variety of individual and relational characteristics such as personal or family income; community, individual or parental education status’ occupational prestige; and many others. However, many approaches or frameworks to understand and measure this characteristic of diversity have proven flawed or invalid when translated to different populations or contexts other than where they were originally formed (often white, middle-class individuals). Additionally, new knowledge about the causes of social stratification identify needs to understand the implicit and explicit effects of race and gender on socioeconomic status. Thus, we believe a better framework for measuring socioeconomic status is necessary to further understanding a changing, more diverse, engineering population. In this paper, we explore several popularly used measurement methods, different ways in which predictors within those methods of measurement have problematically supported the understanding of more privileged identities over less privileged identities, and propose a more inclusive intersectional framework for measuring socioeconomic status.

Problems of inaccurate measurement may come down to the ways we have continued to use predictors of poverty within measurement instruments, such as income, education, and occupation that are raced, classed, and gendered. Our original motivation to measure socioeconomic status has been to understand who is at the bottom, yet, our measures do not account for the populations that are most stratified. Income measurements do not take into account the gendered and racialized income differences that exist; nor do they account for geographical differences in income and cost of living that may have their own dispositions in racism and sexism. Educational predictors such as parental degree attainment are problematic as well because they ignore the gendered and racialized features already salient in obtaining educational capital. Occupational predictors are socially constructed based on perceptions of “occupational prestige” (NORC, 1989) which are sampled in mostly white communities and rank occupations that have been historically defined as white, male professions, such as medicine and engineering, at the top of the occupation ladder. At the intersections of race, gender, and class, these predictors may not be sufficient to understanding socioeconomic disparity beyond white male participants; who are least likely to be impoverished and have the highest chances of social mobility.

Developing an intersectional framework for understanding socioeconomic status may allow for more significant measurement of socioeconomic disparity in engineering education. With better measures of socioeconomic status and population makeup, there may be more opportunity to accurately understand the wide breadth of experiences, attitudes, and beliefs of engineering students. These improvements to quantitative research will also better inform future efforts to develop and assess curriculum implementation.

Major, J. C., & Godwin, A. (2019, June), Work in Progress: An Intersectional Conceptual Framework for Understanding How to Measure Socioeconomic Inequality in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33594

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