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You Either Have It or You Don’t: First Year Engineering Students’ Experiences of Belongingness

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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

Motivation, Identity, and Belongingness

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Jacqueline Ann Rohde Purdue University

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Jacqueline A. Rohde is a first-year graduate student at Purdue University as the recipient of an NSF Graduate
Research Fellowship. Her research interests in engineering education include the development student identity and
attitudes, with a specific focus on the pre-professional identities of engineering undergraduates who join non-
industry occupations upon graduation.

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Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa Benson is a Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning, self-regulated learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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Geoff Potvin Florida International University


Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem-solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, an M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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Allison Godwin Purdue University, 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 is the recipient of a 2014 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty Grant. 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 2016 New Faculty Fellow for the Frontiers in Engineering Education Annual Conference. She also was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow for her work on female empowerment in engineering which won the National Association for Research in Science Teaching 2015 Outstanding Doctoral Research Award.

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This research paper investigates first-year engineering students’ perceptions of belongingness in engineering. This paper aims to discuss how instances of student belonging in engineering affect students’ beliefs about who can do engineering.

This research draws from a larger study of 2,916 first-year engineering students at four large public universities in the United States. This larger study examined the beliefs and attitudes of first-year engineering students and how these attitudes affect collegiate experiences and development of an engineering identity. Novel clustering techniques were used to generate nine attitudinal profiles based on the similarity of student responses, irrespective of respondent’s demographic information. Participants from each attitudinal group were recruited to participate in interviews. Beginning in the second semester of their first-year engineering program, twenty-four participants have been interviewed three times over 18 months. Interviews followed a semi-structured protocol designed to understand students’ experiences, perceptions, and beliefs about engineering. In this work, we focus on four questions from the first interview: “Do you feel like you fit in engineering?”, “Do you feel like you belong in engineering?”, “What characteristics of yourself make you like an engineer?”, and “What characteristics of yourself make you unlike an engineer?” We investigated these questions through thematic analysis to understand the ways in which students experience belongingness (or a lack of belongingness) in engineering. For coding quality and consistency, two authors split the transcript data and held weekly meetings to discuss emergent themes and reach a consensus on applied codes. Applied codes and themes were discussed in the larger research team to further ensure quality.

We found that students described their positive perceptions of belonging as particular skill sets or attitudes/beliefs that they either did or did not have. Although students expressed varied perceptions of the extent to which they belonged within engineering, all of the students discussed belongingness through a sink or swim (binary) evaluation of their skills or attitudes/beliefs. This binary description was evident when students discussed their own traits as completely embodied or not. For example, they only described innovation as an important to belonging if they saw themselves as innovators. These responses indicate that these students judged themselves on a pass-fail metric based on an idealized representation of engineering traits. These values have implications for interventions aiming to increase belonging in engineering. Students’ assertive, binary responses raise a question of which traits might be necessary to perceive one’s belongingness in engineering. More importantly, however, efforts to grow or develop belongingness in engineering may fail with a population that views belongingness as a binary rather than a multidimensional developmental trajectory. Our future work includes longitudinally examining how these students’ perceptions of belonging in engineering changes throughout their undergraduate pathway.

Rohde, J. A., & Benson, L., & Potvin, G., & Kirn, A., & Godwin, A. (2018, June), You Either Have It or You Don’t: First Year Engineering Students’ Experiences of Belongingness Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31320

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