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"You choose between TEAM A, good grades, and a girlfriend - you get to choose two!" - How a culture of exclusion is constructed and maintained in an engineering design competition team

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Culture, Race, and Gender Issues

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.18.1 - 23.18.22



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Paper Authors


Cindy E Foor University of Oklahoma

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Cindy E. Foor is the Associate Director/Research Associate for the Research Institute for STEM Education (RISE) at the University of Oklahoma. Her contribution to the multi-disciplinary team lies in qualitative methodologies, cultural theory and the belief that outliers offer great insight into the workings of power. Her research interests include cultural theory, the cultural/historical construction of women’s identities and roles in past and present societies, and most recently, equity issues surrounding gender and underrepresented populations in engineering education. She can be contacted at

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Susan E. Walden University of Oklahoma Orcid 16x16

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Research Institute for STEM Education, Director
Sooner Engineering Education Center, Associate Director for Education and Outreach

University of Oklahoma

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Deborah A. Trytten University of Oklahoma

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Dr. Deborah A. Trytten is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oklahoma. She holds a doctorate and master's in computer science, and a master's in applied mathematics from Michigan State University. She also holds a B.A. in physics and mathematics from Albion College, in Albion, Michigan. Her research areas include diversity in engineering education, software engineering education, and educational gaming.

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Randa L. Shehab University of Oklahoma

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"You choose between Team A, good grades, and a girlfriend - you get to choose two!" -Monastic commitment contributes to a culture of exclusion for an engineering studentcompetition teamBackground and motivation:A key component of undergraduate engineering education is the opportunity for hands-onexperiential learning. Student, experiential learning, engineering competition teams (SELECT)provide an opportunity for engineering students to practice engineering technical andprofessional skills while engaged in competitive experiential learning design/build projects. Thenumber of students competing in SELECT has increased over the last 30 years from dozens tomany thousands and these teams often garner significant resources from the colleges ofengineering and external sponsors. In spite of efforts to increase participation of under-represented populations (URP) in engineering programs, participation rates of URP students inmany competition teams are exceptionally low, even when normalized for engineeringenrollment.Methods:We seek to identify and explain what factors contribute to cultures of inclusion or exclusionwithin SELECT. This paper will examine one engineering competition team’s culture. Aconstructionist approach to data collection and analysis views power and inequality asinterwoven into all aspects of social life. A cultural construction lens brings into focus the waysthat inclusion is granted or exclusion is maintained to perpetuate privilege and inequality. Usinga qualitative-mixed methods design and a cultural constructionist lens, we conducted andanalyzed interviews with Team A members and the Team A faculty advisor. Additionally, dataconsisting of competition rules, as well as institutional and team artifacts were collected toinform our understanding of the structural conditions of SELECT.Results:Team A consists of 12-15 “core-committed” members, as well as 8-10 “new guys”. All but twocore members are male. The 2011-2012 manifestation was the first for Team A to have twofemales in design-leadership positions. There were no African-American, Native-American orHispanic core members. Only core-committed members accrue the status and highest benefitsavailable to SELECT members, such as meeting potential employers at major competitions. Dataanalysis suggests that the demands of being core-committed limit access to participation, andparticularly core status. Core-commitment involves 30-60 hours per week during the academicyear on team-related activities, team work during school holidays, and summer travel. Corestatus also requires numerous sacrifices including relationships outside the team, paidemployment, academic achievement, and participation in other collegiate activities. Studentswho are unable to make these exceptional sacrifices do not accrue the advantages of SELECTmembership.Conclusions and Significance:The high visibility and lack of diversity of SELECT very loudly counters messages of inclusionand opportunity prominent in national conversations regarding engineering. Membership onSELECT is perceived to provide entrée into high prestige jobs. However, Team A's code ofmonastic commitment drives a culture of exclusion and limits broad participation on the team.Unfortunately, no structural conditions have been identified that mitigate this culture ofexclusion. The lack of opportunity for SELECT participation uncovered in this analysis maycontribute to inequities that extend into students' professional lives after college.

Foor, C. E., & Walden, S. E., & Trytten, D. A., & Shehab, R. L. (2013, June), "You choose between TEAM A, good grades, and a girlfriend - you get to choose two!" - How a culture of exclusion is constructed and maintained in an engineering design competition team Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19027

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