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Work-in-Progress: Sense of Belonging Among Underrepresented Voices in ECE

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Engineering Division Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Chelsea Lyles Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Chelsea H. Lyles, Ph.D. (she, her, hers) is the Associate Director for Broader Impacts at the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) within the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT) at Virginia Tech, where she previously served as a postdoctoral associate for outreach, engagement, and evaluation. Her research interests explore the intersections of a) P-12 and higher education policy and finance, b) academic labor, c) graduate education, and d) assessment of student learning. By critically examining these areas, she aims to illuminate adverse, systemic impacts of policies and practices on historically marginalized populations at the organizational level. Current research projects include a scoping review of service learning courses, measuring sense of belonging in electrical and computer engineering, and a qualitative study of boundary-spanning educators. She has contributed to manuscripts about STEM graduate student funding, skill development, and recruitment in the International Journal of STEM Education and the Journal of Higher Education. She has also written education finance policy analyses for the Journal of Education Finance and published a document analysis in the Journal of Education Human Resources. She has more than 15 years of experience in higher education, including academic advising, academic administration, student affairs, assessment and evaluation, and research. She earned a M.B.A. at Lynchburg College and holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Virginia Tech. Her dissertation was titled, “The Relationship Between Responsibility Center Management, Faculty Composition, and Faculty Compensation.”

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Lisa McNair Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Lisa DuPree McNair is ​​a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and Director of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) at ICAT. Her work focuses on building networks between the university and multiple community sectors and supporting evidence-based outreach in science, engineering, arts, and design. She translated a decade of interdisciplinary initiatives into VT’s Innovations Pathway Minor, and has directed 11 PhD dissertations, served on 17 PhD committees, and funded and mentored 6 post-graduate scholars (5 PhD, 1 MFA). Her funded NSF projects include revolutionizing the culture of the VT ECE department, identifying practices in intentionally inclusive Maker spaces, and researching effective modes of co-creation between housing experts and remote Alaska Native communities.

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Thomas Koonce Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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My name is TJ Koonce and I am a first-year in the Engineering Education PhD program at Virginia Tech. I went to Virginia Tech for my undergraduate degree in Computer Engineering and I worked with the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED) as a GTA for my first semester. The following semester, I worked for CENI as a GRA for data analysis on interviews and a sense of belonging as part of the RED Grant. For research, I am interested in collegiate programs for first-generation and low-income engineering students and student perspectives of collegiate support. After the completion of my PhD, I hope to become a professor for first-year engineering and coding courses at the collegiate level.

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Emily Burns Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Annie Patrick Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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As is the case with other STEM disciplines, a consistent challenge within electrical and computer engineering (ECE) is increasing the enrollment and matriculation of people from under-served and underrepresented communities. Though there have been numerous initiatives throughout the years, ECE undergraduate education still struggles with compositional diversity. Part of addressing the challenge of compositional diversity (in addition to equity and inclusion) is understanding the importance of factors such as sense of belonging, identity, and representation to students.

Belonging, or how students perceive campus support, connection, and being valued, is a key factor in college students’ success. Belonging is positively associated with students’ transition to college, retention, persistence, and self-efficacy. Additionally, a sense of belonging is key to one connecting to their classmates, their community, and eventually their profession. This sense of belonging is not only invaluable to fostering connection and identity, it is also key to motivation and resilience. Lack of belonging negatively impacts students’ academic performance as well as their engineering identity. Therefore, it is very important for engineering departments to foster a sense of belonging for students to be able to identify with engineering and be successful in college.

This study examines the significance of sense of belonging within an ECE department at a research intensive university in the Southeastern United States through the analysis of over twenty podcast interviews. At the university of interest, of the over more than 300 ECE graduates, 32.1% are women, 18% of the students are Asian, 5% are Hispanic, and 3% are Black. Sense of belonging is especially critical in educational contexts where students feel marginalized, such as students of color and women in STEM, where they are underrepresented. Our research questions were: a) What evidence do we find of a sense of belonging and its assumptions within this context? and b) What is the relationship between sense of belonging and social identities within this context?

We used an iterative process of document analysis that combined elements of content analysis, where we organized data related to our research question and theoretical framework, and thematic analysis, where we identified emerging patterns. Our data sources included transcripts from a series of podcast interviews. The podcast was created to highlight the experiences and voices of students, faculty, staff, and administrators within an ECE department that may not have previously been at the forefront of the department.

Our findings indicate that sense of belonging is greatly impacted by how an individual interacts with their environment. We offer recommendations from our study and the literature on ways that faculty, administrators, and advisors can build more inviting environments that promote sense of belonging for a broader range of students.

Lyles, C., & McNair, L., & Koonce, T., & Burns, E., & Patrick, A. (2022, August), Work-in-Progress: Sense of Belonging Among Underrepresented Voices in ECE Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--40717

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