Despite decades of research, the underrepresentation of non-male, and non-white individuals in engineering continues to be a critical problem. A widespread and commonly accepted approach to recruit and retain diverse individuals is to provide multiple pathways into engineering degree programs, such as offering introductory courses at community colleges or regional campuses. Although these pathways are intended to promote diversity, they are similar in structure to the educational tracking practices common within the K-12 context that extant research has shown often work to perpetuate social inequalities. Students in less prestigious tracks have lower educational aspirations and less favorable self-beliefs. As such, the objective of this research is to understand undergraduate engineering students’ beliefs and identities with respect to smartness and engineering from different institutionalized educational pathways. In our executive summary and poster, we report on the pilot phase of the project consisting of nine semi-structured one-on-one interviews with first-year engineering students across three different institutionalized educational pathways as well as the development and refinement of the interview protocol.
The pilot interview protocol was initially development to access the main constructs of interest for this research, beliefs about engineering and smartness as well as identity with respect to engineering and smartness. After the pilot interviews were completed, we utilized an interview protocol refinement approach and determined that the most insufficient portion of our initial protocol was the portion designed to have participants relate their engineering identity to their identity as smart (or not). As such, follow up questions were added to the protocol to provide clarity.
The refined interview protocol will be used during the next phase of the study. The full study will include interviews with 30 participants across six different pathways to understand how participation in different institutionalized pathways relates to students’ experiences, beliefs, and identities. These participants will be interviewed up to three times to follow their development as they transition beyond introductory engineering courses regardless of if they continue with the engineering or not. Our work will provide valuable insights into the complex beliefs and identities about engineering and smartness of students participating in different institutionalized pathways into engineering. Ultimately, we believe our findings will inform the ways in which this common structural approach to broadening participation is enacted in engineering.
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