Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Educational Research and Methods
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. https://peer.asee.org/31320
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