skip to main content

Title: Experiencing disability: A preliminary analysis of professional identity development in U.S. undergraduate civil engineering students
Context: Within higher education, reports show that approximately 6% of Australian college students and 13% of U.S. college students have identified as having a disability to their institution of higher education. Findings from research in K-12 education report that students with disabilities often leave secondary school with lower college aspirations and are discouraged from taking engineering-related courses. Those who do enrol are often not supported effectively and must navigate physical, cultural, and bureaucratic university systems in order to access resources necessary for success in school and work. This lack of support is problematic as cognitive, developmental, mental health, and physical disabilities can markedly shape the ways in which students perceive and experience school, form professional identities, and move into the engineering workforce. However, little work has explored professional identity development within this population, specifically within a single engineering discipline such as civil engineering. Purpose: To move beyond tolerance and actively embrace students with diverse perspectives in engineering higher education, the purpose of this study is to understand the ways in which undergraduate students who experience disability form professional identities as civil engineers. Approach: Drawing on the sensitizing concepts of identity saliency, intersectionality, and social identity theory, we utilize Constructivist Grounded more » Theory (GT) to explore the influences of and interactions among students' disability and professional identities within civil engineering. Semi-structured interviews, each lasting approximately 90 minutes, were conducted with undergraduate civil engineering students who identified as having a disability. Here, we present our findings from the initial and focused coding phases of our GT analysis. Results: Our analyses revealed two themes warranting further exploration: 1) varying levels of disability identity saliency in relation to the development of a professional identity; and 2) conflicting colloquial and individual conceptualizations of disability. Overall, it has been observed that students' experiences with and perceptions of these themes tend to vary based on characteristics of an experienced disability. Conclusions: Students with disabilities experience college - and form professional identities - in a variety of ways. While further research is required to delineate how disability shapes college students' professional identities and vice versa, gaining an understanding of student experiences can yield insights to help us create educational spaces that better allow students with disabilities to flourish in engineering and make engineering education more inclusive. « less
Authors:
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1733636
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10099697
Journal Name:
29th Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference 2018 (AAEE 2018)
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
262 - 268
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Context: Within higher education, reports show that approximately 6% of Australian college students and 13% of U.S. college students have identified as having a disability to their institution of higher education. Findings from research in K-12 education report that students with disabilities often leave secondary school with lower college aspirations and are discouraged from taking engineering-related courses. Those who do enrol are often not supported effectively and must navigate physical, cultural, and bureaucratic university systems in order to access resources necessary for success in school and work. This lack of support is problematic as cognitive, developmental, mental health, and physicalmore »disabilities can markedly shape the ways in which students perceive and experience school, form professional identities, and move into the engineering workforce. However, little work has explored professional identity development within this population, specifically within a single engineering discipline such as civil engineering. Purpose: To move beyond tolerance and actively embrace students with diverse perspectives in engineering higher education, the purpose of this study is to understand the ways in which undergraduate students who experience disability form professional identities as civil engineers. Approach: Drawing on the sensitizing concepts of identity saliency, intersectionality, and social identity theory, we utilize Constructivist Grounded Theory (GT) to explore the influences of and interactions among students' disability and professional identities within civil engineering. Semi-structured interviews, each lasting approximately 90 minutes, were conducted with undergraduate civil engineering students who identified as having a disability. Here, we present our findings from the initial and focused coding phases of our GT analysis. Results: Our analyses revealed two themes warranting further exploration: 1) varying levels of disability identity saliency in relation to the development of a professional identity; and 2) conflicting colloquial and individual conceptualizations of disability. Overall, it has been observed that students' experiences with and perceptions of these themes tend to vary based on characteristics of an experienced disability. Conclusions: Students with disabilities experience college - and form professional identities - in a variety of ways. While further research is required to delineate how disability shapes college students' professional identities and vice versa, gaining an understanding of student experiences can yield insights to help us create educational spaces that better allow students with disabilities to flourish in engineering and make engineering education more inclusive.« less
  2. In recent years, studies in engineering education have begun to intentionally integrate disability into discussions of diversity, inclusion, and equity. To broaden and advocate for the participation of this group in engineering, researchers have identified a variety of factors that have kept people with disabilities at the margins of the field. Such factors include the underrepresentation of disabled individuals within research and industry; systemic and personal barriers, and sociocultural expectations within and beyond engineering education-related contexts. These findings provide a foundational understanding of the external and environmental influences that can shape how students with disabilities experience higher education, develop amore »sense of belonging, and ultimately form professional identities as engineers. Prior work examining the intersections of disability identity and professional identity is limited, with little to no studies examining the ways in which students conceptualize, define, and interpret disability as a category of identity during their undergraduate engineering experience. This lack of research poses problems for recruitment, retention, and inclusion, particularly as existing studies have shown that the ways in which students perceive and define themselves in relation to their college major is crucial for the development of a professional engineering identity. Further, due to variation in defining ‘disability’ across national agencies (e.g., the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Justice) and disability communities (with different models of disability), the term “disability” is broad and often misunderstood, frequently referring to a group of individuals with a wide range of conditions and experiences. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to gain deeper insights into the ways students define disability and disability identity within their own contexts as they develop professional identities. Specifically, we ask the following research question: How do students describe and conceptualize non-apparent disabilities? To answer this research question, we draw from emergent findings from an on-going grounded theory exploration of professional identity formation of undergraduate civil engineering students with disabilities. In this paper, we focus our discussion on the grounded theory analyses of 4 semi-structured interviews with participants who have disclosed a non-apparent disability. Study participants consist of students currently enrolled in undergraduate civil engineering programs, students who were initially enrolled in undergraduate civil engineering programs and transferred to another major, and students who have recently graduated from a civil engineering program within the past year. Sensitizing concepts emerged as findings from the initial grounded theory analysis to guide and initiate our inquiry: 1) the medical model of disability, 2) the social model of disability, and 3) personal experience. First, medical models of disability position physical, cognitive, and developmental difference as a “sickness” or “condition” that must be “treated”. From this perspective, disability is perceived as an impairment that must be accommodated so that individuals can obtain a dominantly-accepted sense of normality. An example of medical models within the education context include accommodations procedures in which students must obtain an official diagnosis in order to access tools necessary for academic success. Second, social models of disability position disability as a dynamic and fluid identity that consists of a variety of physical, cognitive, or developmental differences. Dissenting from assumptions of normality and the focus on individual bodily conditions (hallmarks of the medical model), the social model focuses on the political and social structures that inherently create or construct disability. An example of a social model within the education context includes the universal design of materials and tools that are accessible to all students within a given course. In these instances, students are not required to request accommodations and may, consequently, bypass medical diagnoses. Lastly, participants referred to their own life experiences as a way to define, describe, and consider disability. Fernando considers his stutter to be a disability because he is often interrupted, spoken over, or silenced when engaging with others. In turn, he is perceived as unintelligent and unfit to be a civil engineer by his peers. In contrast, David, who identifies as autistic, does not consider himself to be disabled. These experiences highlight the complex intersections of medical and social models of disability and their contextual influences as participants navigate their lives. While these sensitizing concepts are not meant to scope the research, they provide a useful lens for initiating research and provides markers on which a deeper, emergent analysis is expanded. Findings from this work will be used to further explore the professional identity formation of undergraduate civil engineering students with disabilities. These findings will provide engineering education researchers and practitioners with insights regarding the ways individuals with disabilities interpret their in- and out-of-classroom experiences and navigate their disability identities. For higher education, broadly, this work aims to reinforce the complex and diverse nature of disability experience and identity, particularly as it relates to accommodations and accessibility within the classroom, and expand the inclusiveness of our programs and institutions.« less
  3. While recent calls throughout the engineering education community have focused on increasing diversity and broadening participation in STEM, these conversations typically center on race and gender with little to no work addressing disability. But research in higher education broadly suggests that cognitive, physical, and learning disabilities can markedly impact the ways in which students perceive and experience school, develop professional identities, and move into the engineering workforce. To address this gap, we build on emerging conversations that explore the ways in which students experience disability within the context of engineering education. In particular, we conducted an initial grounded theory analysismore »of interviews examining professional identity formation in undergraduate civil engineering students who experience disabilities. From our analysis, we observed three themes that begin to highlight ways in which the experience of students with disabilities may contribute to their development as emerging civil engineers.« less
  4. National agencies throughout Australia and the United States (U.S.) have called for broadened participation in engineering, including participation by individuals with disabilities. However, studies demonstrate that students with disabilities are not effectively supported by university systems and cultures. This lack of support can shape how students form professional identities as they move through school and into careers. To better understand these experiences and create a more inclusive environment in engineering, we conducted a constructivist grounded theory exploration of professional identity formation in students who identify as having a disability as they study civil engineering and experience their first year ofmore »work. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 24 undergraduate civil engineering students across the U.S. and analysed them using grounded theory techniques. Navigating sociocultural expectations of disability emerged as one key theme, consisting of three strategy types: (1) neutrally satisfying expectations, (2) challenging expectations, and (3) aligning with expectations. Regardless of strategy, all participants navigated sociocultural expectations related to their studies and their disabilities. This theme highlights the ways sociocultural influences impact students’ navigation through their undergraduate civil engineering careers. These findings can be used to examine cultural barriers faced by students with disabilities to enhance their inclusion in engineering.« less
  5. The ways in which students encounter school can markedly shape how they form professional identities and continue into the engineering workforce. This is particularly true for those students who experience a variety of disabilities, as they must simultaneously manage and navigate disability-related cultural, academic, physical, and bureaucratic university structures and form professional identities. In this paper, we describe the evolution of an ongoing NSF-sponsored project exploring professional identity formation in undergraduate civil engineering students with disabilities as they experience their undergraduate careers and move into the workforce. To provide context for this ongoing work, we summarize the background, sensitizing concepts,more »and updated research procedures underpinning this study. We then focus our discussion on our emergent findings to-date, which includes the identification of a sub-process referred to as Establishing Definitions of Self. Overall, these findings begin to highlight the nuance and fluidity of disability identity as students form professional identities as civil engineers.« less