skip to main content

Title: Using Possible Selves and Intersectionality Theory to Understand Why Students of Color Opt Out of Honors
Abstract: Honors education values diversity, not simply to enrich our classrooms but for equity and social justice. At Columbus State University, students of color were underrepresented in honors education, and we sought to determine if institutional structures hindered them from being able to access educational programming that was commensurate with their ability. We used focus group interviews with students of color who were academically eligible to enroll in honors education yet never participated. We combined focus group interviews with an analysis of our recruiting practices. Using a theoretical framework based on intersectionality and possible selves theory, we found that our participants valued diverse learning environments, balance, and co-curricular engagement that supported their professional, hoped-for selves. However, they perceived honors students as stressed, studious, and lacking leisure time, and they perceived honors education as disconnected from their future professional selves. Since their perceptions, which were informed by participation in advanced programs in middle school and high school, as well as our recruiting practices, were in conflict with their educational aims, our participants were unwilling to invest in honors education. While not generalizable, the results provide unique insights that may implicate institutional practices as barriers to participation because they fail to address the concerns of high-achieving students of color.
Authors:
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1817519
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10279580
Journal Name:
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council
Volume:
21
Issue:
2
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
67-93
ISSN:
2378-5993
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Introduction and Theoretical Frameworks Our study draws upon several theoretical foundations to investigate and explain the educational experiences of Black students majoring in ME, CpE, and EE: intersectionality, critical race theory, and community cultural wealth theory. Intersectionality explains how gender operates together with race, not independently, to produce multiple, overlapping forms of discrimination and social inequality (Crenshaw, 1989; Collins, 2013). Critical race theory recognizes the unique experiences of marginalized groups and strives to identify the micro- and macro-institutional sources of discrimination and prejudice (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). Community cultural wealth integrates an asset-based perspective to our analysis of engineering educationmore »to assist in the identification of factors that contribute to the success of engineering students (Yosso, 2005). These three theoretical frameworks are buttressed by our use of Racial Identity Theory, which expands understanding about the significance and meaning associated with students’ sense of group membership. Sellers and colleagues (1997) introduced the Multidimensional Model of Racial Identity (MMRI), in which they indicated that racial identity refers to the “significance and meaning that African Americans place on race in defining themselves” (p. 19). The development of this model was based on the reality that individuals vary greatly in the extent to which they attach meaning to being a member of the Black racial group. Sellers et al. (1997) posited that there are four components of racial identity: 1. Racial salience: “the extent to which one’s race is a relevant part of one’s self-concept at a particular moment or in a particular situation” (p. 24). 2. Racial centrality: “the extent to which a person normatively defines himself or herself with regard to race” (p. 25). 3. Racial regard: “a person’s affective or evaluative judgment of his or her race in terms of positive-negative valence” (p. 26). This element consists of public regard and private regard. 4. Racial ideology: “composed of the individual’s beliefs, opinions and attitudes with respect to the way he or she feels that the members of the race should act” (p. 27). The resulting 56-item inventory, the Multidimensional Inventory of Black Identity (MIBI), provides a robust measure of Black identity that can be used across multiple contexts. Research Questions Our 3-year, mixed-method study of Black students in computer (CpE), electrical (EE) and mechanical engineering (ME) aims to identify institutional policies and practices that contribute to the retention and attrition of Black students in electrical, computer, and mechanical engineering. Our four study institutions include historically Black institutions as well as predominantly white institutions, all of which are in the top 15 nationally in the number of Black engineering graduates. We are using a transformative mixed-methods design to answer the following overarching research questions: 1. Why do Black men and women choose and persist in, or leave, EE, CpE, and ME? 2. What are the academic trajectories of Black men and women in EE, CpE, and ME? 3. In what way do these pathways vary by gender or institution? 4. What institutional policies and practices promote greater retention of Black engineering students? Methods This study of Black students in CpE, EE, and ME reports initial results from in-depth interviews at one HBCU and one PWI. We asked students about a variety of topics, including their sense of belonging on campus and in the major, experiences with discrimination, the impact of race on their experiences, and experiences with microaggressions. For this paper, we draw on two methodological approaches that allowed us to move beyond a traditional, linear approach to in-depth interviews, allowing for more diverse experiences and narratives to emerge. First, we used an identity circle to gain a better understanding of the relative importance to the participants of racial identity, as compared to other identities. The identity circle is a series of three concentric circles, surrounding an “inner core” representing one’s “core self.” Participants were asked to place various identities from a provided list that included demographic, family-related, and school-related identities on the identity circle to reflect the relative importance of the different identities to participants’ current engineering education experiences. Second, participants were asked to complete an 8-item survey which measured the “centrality” of racial identity as defined by Sellers et al. (1997). Following Enders’ (2018) reflection on the MMRI and Nigrescence Theory, we chose to use the measure of racial centrality as it is generally more stable across situations and best “describes the place race holds in the hierarchy of identities an individual possesses and answers the question ‘How important is race to me in my life?’” (p. 518). Participants completed the MIBI items at the end of the interview to allow us to learn more about the participants’ identification with their racial group, to avoid biasing their responses to the Identity Circle, and to avoid potentially creating a stereotype threat at the beginning of the interview. This paper focuses on the results of the MIBI survey and the identity circles to investigate whether these measures were correlated. Recognizing that Blackness (race) is not monolithic, we were interested in knowing the extent to which the participants considered their Black identity as central to their engineering education experiences. Combined with discussion about the identity circles, this approach allowed us to learn more about how other elements of identity may shape the participants’ educational experiences and outcomes and revealed possible differences in how participants may enact various points of their identity. Findings For this paper, we focus on the results for five HBCU students and 27 PWI students who completed the MIBI and identity circle. The overall MIBI average for HBCU students was 43 (out of a possible 56) and the overall MIBI scores ranged from 36-51; the overall MIBI average for the PWI students was 40; the overall MIBI scores for the PWI students ranged from 24-51. Twenty-one students placed race in the inner circle, indicating that race was central to their identity. Five placed race on the second, middle circle; three placed race on the third, outer circle. Three students did not place race on their identity circle. For our cross-case qualitative analysis, we will choose cases across the two institutions that represent low, medium and high MIBI scores and different ranges of centrality of race to identity, as expressed in the identity circles. Our final analysis will include descriptive quotes from these in-depth interviews to further elucidate the significance of race to the participants’ identities and engineering education experiences. The results will provide context for our larger study of a total of 60 Black students in engineering at our four study institutions. Theoretically, our study represents a new application of Racial Identity Theory and will provide a unique opportunity to apply the theories of intersectionality, critical race theory, and community cultural wealth theory. Methodologically, our findings provide insights into the utility of combining our two qualitative research tools, the MIBI centrality scale and the identity circle, to better understand the influence of race on the education experiences of Black students in engineering.« less
  2. Need/Motivation (e.g., goals, gaps in knowledge) The ESTEEM implemented a STEM building capacity project through students’ early access to a sustainable and innovative STEM Stepping Stones, called Micro-Internships (MI). The goal is to reap key benefits of a full-length internship and undergraduate research experiences in an abbreviated format, including access, success, degree completion, transfer, and recruiting and retaining more Latinx and underrepresented students into the STEM workforce. The MIs are designed with the goals to provide opportunities for students at a community college and HSI, with authentic STEM research and applied learning experiences (ALE), support for appropriate STEM pathway/career, preparationmore »and confidence to succeed in STEM and engage in summer long REUs, and with improved outcomes. The MI projects are accessible early to more students and build momentum to better overcome critical obstacles to success. The MIs are shorter, flexibly scheduled throughout the year, easily accessible, and participation in multiple MI is encouraged. ESTEEM also establishes a sustainable and collaborative model, working with partners from BSCS Science Education, for MI’s mentor, training, compliance, and building capacity, with shared values and practices to maximize the improvement of student outcomes. New Knowledge (e.g., hypothesis, research questions) Research indicates that REU/internship experiences can be particularly powerful for students from Latinx and underrepresented groups in STEM. However, those experiences are difficult to access for many HSI-community college students (85% of our students hold off-campus jobs), and lack of confidence is a barrier for a majority of our students. The gap between those who can and those who cannot is the “internship access gap.” This project is at a central California Community College (CCC) and HSI, the only affordable post-secondary option in a region serving a historically underrepresented population in STEM, including 75% Hispanic, and 87% have not completed college. MI is designed to reduce inequalities inherent in the internship paradigm by providing access to professional and research skills for those underserved students. The MI has been designed to reduce barriers by offering: shorter duration (25 contact hours); flexible timing (one week to once a week over many weeks); open access/large group; and proximal location (on-campus). MI mentors participate in week-long summer workshops and ongoing monthly community of practice with the goal of co-constructing a shared vision, engaging in conversations about pedagogy and learning, and sustaining the MI program going forward. Approach (e.g., objectives/specific aims, research methodologies, and analysis) Research Question and Methodology: We want to know: How does participation in a micro-internship affect students’ interest and confidence to pursue STEM? We used a mixed-methods design triangulating quantitative Likert-style survey data with interpretive coding of open-responses to reveal themes in students’ motivations, attitudes toward STEM, and confidence. Participants: The study sampled students enrolled either part-time or full-time at the community college. Although each MI was classified within STEM, they were open to any interested student in any major. Demographically, participants self-identified as 70% Hispanic/Latinx, 13% Mixed-Race, and 42 female. Instrument: Student surveys were developed from two previously validated instruments that examine the impact of the MI intervention on student interest in STEM careers and pursuing internships/REUs. Also, the pre- and post (every e months to assess longitudinal outcomes) -surveys included relevant open response prompts. The surveys collected students’ demographics; interest, confidence, and motivation in pursuing a career in STEM; perceived obstacles; and past experiences with internships and MIs. 171 students responded to the pre-survey at the time of submission. Outcomes (e.g., preliminary findings, accomplishments to date) Because we just finished year 1, we lack at this time longitudinal data to reveal if student confidence is maintained over time and whether or not students are more likely to (i) enroll in more internships, (ii) transfer to a four-year university, or (iii) shorten the time it takes for degree attainment. For short term outcomes, students significantly Increased their confidence to continue pursuing opportunities to develop within the STEM pipeline, including full-length internships, completing STEM degrees, and applying for jobs in STEM. For example, using a 2-tailed t-test we compared means before and after the MI experience. 15 out of 16 questions that showed improvement in scores were related to student confidence to pursue STEM or perceived enjoyment of a STEM career. Finding from the free-response questions, showed that the majority of students reported enrolling in the MI to gain knowledge and experience. After the MI, 66% of students reported having gained valuable knowledge and experience, and 35% of students spoke about gaining confidence and/or momentum to pursue STEM as a career. Broader Impacts (e.g., the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM; development of a diverse STEM workforce, enhanced infrastructure for research and education) The ESTEEM project has the potential for a transformational impact on STEM undergraduate education’s access and success for underrepresented and Latinx community college students, as well as for STEM capacity building at Hartnell College, a CCC and HSI, for students, faculty, professionals, and processes that foster research in STEM and education. Through sharing and transfer abilities of the ESTEEM model to similar institutions, the project has the potential to change the way students are served at an early and critical stage of their higher education experience at CCC, where one in every five community college student in the nation attends a CCC, over 67% of CCC students identify themselves with ethnic backgrounds that are not White, and 40 to 50% of University of California and California State University graduates in STEM started at a CCC, thus making it a key leverage point for recruiting and retaining a more diverse STEM workforce.« less
  3. POSTER. Presented at the Symposium (9/12/2019) Abstract: The Academy of Engineering Success (AcES) employs literature-based, best practices to support and retain underrepresented students in engineering through graduation with the ultimate goal of diversifying the engineering workforce. AcES was established in 2012 and has been supported via NSF S-STEM award number 1644119 since 2016. The 2016, 2017, and 2018 cohorts consist of 12, 20, and 22 students, respectively. Five S-STEM supported scholarships were awarded to the 2016 cohort, seven scholarships were awarded to students from the 2017 cohort, and six scholarships were awarded to students from the 2018 cohort. AcES studentsmore »participate in a one-week summer bridge experience, a common fall semester course focused on professional development, and a common spring semester course emphasizing the role of engineers in societal development. Starting with the summer bridge experience, and continuing until graduation, students are immersed in curricular and co-curricular activities with the goals of fostering feelings of institutional inclusion and belonging in engineering, providing academic support and student success skills, and professional development. The aforementioned goals are achieved by providing (1) opportunities for faculty-student, student-student, and industry mentor-student interaction, (2) academic support, and student success education in areas such as time management and study skills, and (3) facilitated career and major exploration. Four research questions are being examined, (1) What is the relationship between participation in the AcES program and participants’ academic success?, (2) What aspects of the AcES program most significantly impact participants’ success in engineering, (3) How do AcES students seek to overcome challenges in studying engineering, and (4) What is the longitudinal impact of the AcES program in terms of motivation, perceptions, feelings of inclusion, outcome expectations of the participants and retention? Students enrolled in the AcES program participate in the GRIT, LAESE, and MSLQ surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews at the start and end of each fall semester and at the end of the spring semester. The surveys provide a measure of students’ GRIT, general self-efficacy, engineering self-efficacy, test anxiety, math outcome efficacy, intrinsic value of learning, inclusion, career expectations, and coping efficacy. Focus group and interview responses are analyzed in order to answer research questions 2, 3, and 4. Survey responses are analyzed to answer research question 4, and institutional data such as GPA is used to answer research question 1. An analysis of the 2017 AcES cohort survey responses produced a surprising result. When the responses of AcES students who retained were compared to the responses of AcES students who left engineering, those who left engineering had higher baseline values of GRIT, career expectations, engineering self-efficacy, and math outcome efficacy than those students who retained. A preliminary analysis of the 2016, 2017, and 2018 focus group and one-on-one interview responses indicates that the Engineering Learning Center, tutors, organized out of class experiences, first-year seminar, the AcES cohort, the AcES summer bridge, the AcES program, AcES Faculty/Staff, AcES guest lecturers, and FEP faculty/Staff are viewed as valuable by students and cited with contributing to their success in engineering. It is also evident that AcES students seek help from peers, seek help from tutors, use online resources, and attend office hours to overcome their challenges in studying engineering.« less
  4. 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
  5. Broadening participation in engineering is critical given the gap between the nation’s need for engineering graduates and its production of them. Efforts to spark interest in engineering among PreK-12 students have increased substantially in recent years as a result. However, past research has demonstrated that interest is not always sufficient to help students pursue engineering majors, particularly for rural students. In many rural communities, influential adults (family, friends, teachers) are often the primary influence on career choice, while factors such as community values, lack of social and cultural capital, limited course availability, and inadequate financial resources act as potential barriers.more »To account for these contextual factors, this project shifts the focus from individual students to the communities to understand how key stakeholders and organizations support engineering as a major choice and addresses the following questions: RQ1. What do current undergraduate engineering students who graduated from rural high schools describe as influences on their choice to attend college and pursue engineering as a post-secondary major? RQ2. How does the college choice process differ for rural students who enrolled in a 4-year university immediately after graduating from high school and those who transferred from a 2-year institution? RQ3. How do community members describe the resources that serve as key supports as well as the barriers that hinder support in their community? RQ4. What strategies do community members perceive their community should implement to enhance their ability to support engineering as a potential career choice? RQ5. How are these supports transferable or adaptable by other schools? What community-level factors support or inhibit transfer and adaptation? To answer the research questions, we employed a three-phase qualitative study. Phase 1 focused on understanding the experiences and perceptions of current [University Name] students from higher-producing rural schools. Analysis of focus group and interview data with 52 students highlighted the importance of interest and support from influential adults in students’ decision to major in engineering. One key finding from this phase was the importance of community college for many of our participants. Transfer students who attended community college before enrolling at [University Name] discussed the financial influences on their decision and the benefits of higher education much more frequently than their peers. In Phase 2, we used the findings from Phase 1 to conduct interviews within the participants’ home communities. This phase helped triangulate students’ perceptions with the perceptions and practices of others, and, equally importantly, allowed us to understand the goals, attitudes, and experiences of school personnel and local community members as they work with students. Participants from the students’ home communities indicated that there were few opportunities for students to learn more about engineering careers and provided suggestions for how colleges and universities could be more involved with students from their community. Phase 3, scheduled for Spring 2020, will bring the findings from Phases 1 and 2 back to rural communities via two participatory design workshops. These workshops, designed to share our findings and foster collaborative dialogue among the participants, will enable us to explore factors that support or hinder transfer of findings and to identify policies and strategies that would enhance each community’s ability to support engineering as a potential career choice.« less