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Understanding the experiences of first-generation students is important for expanding diversity and inclusion in engineering education. Some of these students may include the military as a part of their educational pathways. However, there is little research on the experiences of first-generation student veterans in engineering education. This qualitative study seeks to address this gap. The investigation focuses on first-generation student veterans in engineering (FGSVEs) (n=15) who were interviewed as a part of a larger study of SVEs (n=60) on four college campuses. The study addressed the following research questions:
(1) Why do FGSVEs decide to join the military?
(2) Why do FGSVEs choose to major in engineering?
Results suggest that these FGSVEs join the military to gain some direction and purpose in their lives and to pay for college. They primarily choose engineering as a pathway toward financial stability and to engage in creative problem solving. This study reveals that the military provides opportunities to first-generation students that would otherwise not likely be available to them due to their reported lower level of motivation and academic discipline during and after high school. The study results can aid in the development of recruiting strategies and the design of more effective programs and policies for SVEs in general and first-generation SVEs in particular. For example, because many of these students overcame initial obstacles in higher education, they could be a potential pool of effective mentors in engineering, both to other student veterans and to first-generation students.
Catherine Mobley, Ph.D., is a Professor of Sociology at Clemson University. She has over 30 years experience in project and program evaluation and has worked for a variety of consulting firms, non-profit agencies, and government organizations, including t
Catherine E. Brawner is President of Research Triangle Educational Consultants. She received her Ph.D.in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from NC State University in 1996. She also has an MBA from Indiana University (Bloomington) and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. She specializes in
evaluation and research in engineering education, computer science education, teacher education, and technology education. Dr. Brawner is a founding member and former treasurer of Research Triangle Park Evaluators, an American Evaluation Association affiliate organization and is a member of the American Educational Research Association and American Evaluation Association, in addition to ASEE. Dr. Brawner is also an Extension Services Consultant for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) and, in that role, advises computer science and engineering departments on diversifying their undergraduate student population. She remains an active researcher, including studying academic policies, gender and ethnicity issues, transfers, and matriculation models with MIDFIELD as well as student veterans in engineering. Her evaluation work includes evaluating teamwork models, statewide pre-college math initiatives, teacher and faculty professional development programs, and S-STEM programs.
Susan M. Lord received a B.S. from Cornell University in Materials Science and Electrical Engineering (EE) and the M.S. and Ph.D. in EE from Stanford University. She is currently Professor and Chair of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Dieg
Joyce B. Main is Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received an Ed.M. in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. degree in Learning, Teaching, and Social Po
Michelle Madsen Camacho is Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of San Diego.
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