skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on June 1, 2023

Title: It’s a Vibe: understanding the graduate school experiences of Black male engineering faculty
Purpose In spite of ongoing and recent initiatives aimed at broadening participation in engineering, the representation of diverse groups of learners in engineering graduate programs in the USA remains a challenge. Foregrounding the voices of 26 Black male engineering faculty, this study aims to investigate how institutions might recruit and retain more Black men in engineering graduate programs. Design/methodology/approach For this study, inductive thematic analysis was used. Findings The authors show that three themes, namely, representation as an asset, invested mentors and faculty, and supportive peer networks described as the “Vibe” manifest as crucial elements for successful recruitment and retention of Black men in engineering graduate programs. Originality/value These findings are meant to augment the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion in engineering graduate programs and to address a dearth of published research on the Black male engineering population. This work is also meant to help institutions conceptualize ways to create a “Vibe” that might be transferable to their institution’s sociocultural context.
; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1828347 2001914 1828306
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Journal for Multicultural Education
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. There are significant disparities between the conferring of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) bachelor’s degrees to minoritized groups and the number of STEM faculty that represent minoritized groups at four-year predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Studies show that as of 2019, African American faculty at PWIs have increased by only 2.3% in the last 20 years. This study explores the ways in which this imbalance affects minoritized students in engineering majors. Our research objective is to describe the ways in which African American students navigate their way to success in an engineering program at a PWI where the minoritized faculty representation is less than 10%. In this study, we define success as completion of an undergraduate degree and matriculation into a Ph.D. program. Research shows that African American students struggle with feeling like the “outsider within” in graduate programs and that the engineering culture can permeate from undergraduate to graduate programs. We address our research objective by conducting interviews using navigational capital as our theoretical framework, which can be defined as resilience, academic invulnerability, and skills. These three concepts come together to denote the journey of an individual as they achieve success in an environment not created with them inmore »mind. Navigational capital has been applied in education contexts to study minoritized groups, and specifically in engineering education to study the persistence of students of color. Research on navigational capital often focuses on how participants acquire resources from others. There is a limited focus on the experience of the student as the individual agent exercising their own navigational capital. Drawing from and adapting the framework of navigational capital, this study provides rich descriptions of the lived experiences of African American students in an engineering program at a PWI as they navigated their way to academic success in a system that was not designed with them in mind. This pilot study took place at a research-intensive, land grant PWI in the southeastern United States. We recruited two students who identify as African American and are in the first year of their Ph.D. program in an engineering major. Our interview protocol was adapted from a related study about student motivation, identity, and sense of belonging in engineering. After transcribing interviews with these participants, we began our qualitative analysis with a priori coding, drawing from the framework of navigational capital, to identify the experiences, connections, involvement, and resources the participants tapped into as they maneuvered their way to success in an undergraduate engineering program at a PWI. To identify other aspects of the participants’ experiences that were not reflected in that framework, we also used open coding. The results showed that the participants tapped into their navigational capital when they used experiences, connections, involvement, and resources to be resilient, academically invulnerable, and skillful. They learned from experiences (theirs or others’), capitalized on their connections, positioned themselves through involvement, and used their resources to achieve success in their engineering program. The participants identified their experiences, connections, and involvement. For example, one participant who came from a blended family (African American and White) drew from the experiences she had with her blended family. Her experiences helped her to understand the cultures of Black and White people. She was able to turn that into a skill to connect with others at her PWI. The point at which she took her familial experiences to use as a skill to maneuver her way to success at a PWI was an example of her navigational capital. Another participant capitalized on his connections to develop academic invulnerability. He was able to build his connections by making meaningful relationships with his classmates. He knew the importance of having reliable people to be there for him when he encountered a topic he did not understand. He cultivated an environment through relationships with classmates that set him up to achieve academic invulnerability in his classes. The participants spoke least about how they used their resources. The few mentions of resources were not distinct enough to make any substantial connection to the factors that denote navigational capital. The participants spoke explicitly about the PWI culture in their engineering department. From open coding, we identified the theme that participants did not expect to have role models in their major that looked like them and went into their undergraduate experience with the understanding that they will be the distinct minority in their classes. They did not make notable mention of how a lack of minority faculty affected their success. Upon acceptance, they took on the challenge of being a racial minority in exchange for a well-recognized degree they felt would have more value compared to engineering programs at other universities. They identified ways they maneuvered around their expectation that they would not have representative role models through their use of navigational capital. Integrating knowledge from the framework of navigational capital and its existing applications in engineering and education allows us the opportunity to learn from African American students that have succeeded in engineering programs with low minority faculty representation. The future directions of this work are to outline strategies that could enhance the path of minoritized engineering students towards success and to lay a foundation for understanding the use of navigational capital by minoritized students in engineering at PWIs. Students at PWIs can benefit from understanding their own navigational capital to help them identify ways to successfully navigate educational institutions. Students’ awareness of their capacity to maintain high levels of achievement, their connections to networks that facilitate navigation, and their ability to draw from experiences to enhance resilience provide them with the agency to unleash the invisible factors of their potential to be innovators in their collegiate and work environments.« less
  2. Black males are severely underrepresented in undergraduate and graduate engineering programs. While postsecondary interventions have shown to be effective, they are few and far between. Representation of Black males in all segments of the engineering pipeline continues to lag. There also remains a dearth of research that has sought to uncover and understand the factors that influence Black males to pursue engineering graduate degrees and further use these perspectives for more informed intervention design. As a part of a larger study, the authors used interpretive phenomenological analysis to understand the factors that influenced 15 Black male engineers to pursue engineering graduate degrees and to elucidate factors that led to their degree attainment. As the data was analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis, the authors were guided by cultural capital theory to uncover the assets possessed by participants to attain an advanced degree. Three major themes emerged from this study: benefits of advanced degrees (motivation for why they pursued advanced degrees), social supports (motivation for attainment), and hurdles and obstacles experienced (possible barriers to attainment). Two minor themes (advisor and mentor challenges and negative racial experiences) emerged from the major theme of hurdles and obstacles experienced. Finally, the authors provide recommendations formore »improving the educational pipeline to in-crease the number of Black males attaining advanced degrees in engineering. The findings of this study may impact intervention design and efforts aimed at recruiting and retaining Black males in engineering graduate programs.« less
  3. Understanding the experiences of successful diverse science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) faculty can facilitate the development of programming that counteracts barriers and weaknesses from multiple angles. The challenges that students and professionals report can be broadly identified as either identity-based or institutional. The lack of diversity in STEM fields in academia can result in narrow viewpoints, limited student diversity, and missed opportunities to address today’s societal challenges. It is clear that we must consider programming that has positively impacted successful STEM faculty in academia in order to create effective programming to recruit and retain future diverse STEM faculty. Our phenomenological study sought to add to the literature related to the role that socialization plays in preparing individuals for success in faculty roles by conducting in-depth interviews with early-career STEM faculty members in under-represented groups. The phenomena under investigation were experiences leading to early-career STEM faculty members’ successful career pathways. Seven early-career STEM faculty from multiple institutions described unique paths to their current faculty position with some commonalities, including participation in undergraduate or postdoc research and having some industry experience. The suggestions, advice, and guidance offered by the participants fell into categories that, while mirrored in the literature, serve asmore »useful markers for administrators developing programming. We organized our findings using the conceptual framework of socialization and the associated competencies for our context. As we strive to encourage and build diverse representation in populations of STEM academicians, these collective findings are invaluable. Findings confirm that programming directly impacts the success of early-career STEM faculty, and it is the success of these individuals that will enable diversity and inclusion to expand in STEM. Programs, interventions, and additional efforts for graduate students can also benefit from close examination of these experiences.« less
  4. As the field continues to grow, engineering education is continually challenged with finding engineering education research (EER) positions that align with the broad abilities and interests of its members. EER positions exist in engineering education departments, traditional engineering departments (e.g., mechanical, civil), and in non-degree granting programs (e.g., centers for teaching and learning, engineering programs). These positions vary across their emphasis on research, teaching, and service and provide access to different resources and mechanisms to impact engineering education. Given the range of positions available in EER and the emergence of new EER programs, it can be challenging for graduate students and postdocs to navigate the job search process and identify a position that aligns with their professional goals. The purpose of this research was to better understand the EER job market as it relates to what applicants (i.e., graduates and post-docs) experience as they navigate the job-search and decision-making process. For this study, we conducted interviews with seven transitioning first-year EER faculty members. These individuals were transitioning into various EER faculty positions (e.g. Lecturer, Teaching Fellow, Assistant Professor, Research Assistant Professor) with different backgrounds in EER based on their graduate training experiences which included established EER programs as well asmore »traditional engineering departments with EER advisor(s). We asked questions that focused on the individual’s new faculty position, their perception of the weekly time requirements, their job search process, and factors that influenced their final decision of which job to select. Each interview was conducted by two graduate students and was then transcribed and verified for accuracy. Three faculty members performed holistic coding of the transcripts focused on three areas: EER position types, job search process, and job decision making process. The Qualifying Qualitative research Quality framework (Q3) was used as a guide throughout our data collection and analysis process to ensure reliability and trustworthiness of the data collected. Through our analysis process, we developed a visual representation that provides a guide to assist EER graduate students and postdocs with their job search process. The first figure captures the diversity of positions along with the types of institutions where these positions exist to provide a starting point for individuals on their job search process. The second figure includes a timeline to help capture the average time frames for different phases of the job search process. Factors associated with final decisions based on the interviews conducted are also outlined to provide areas of consideration for individuals undergoing this process in the future. This work provides insight to aspiring academics about the range of opportunities available to those with a background in EER and how they can pursue finding alignment between their interests and positions that are available.« less
  5. Our transformative mixed-methods project, funded by the Division of Engineering Education and Centers, responds to calls for more cross-institutional qualitative and longitudinal studies of minorities in engineering education. We seek to identify the factors that promote persistence and graduation as well as attrition for Black students in Electrical Engineering (EE), Computer Engineering (CpE), and Mechanical Engineering (ME). Our work combines quantitative exploration and qualitative interviews to better understand the nuanced and complex nature of retention and attrition in these fields. We are investigating 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 ways do these pathways vary by gender or institution? 4. What institutional policies and practices promote greater retention of Black engineering students? In this paper, we report on the results from 79 in-depth interviews with students at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and a Historically Black University (HBCU [or HBU]). We describe emergent findings during Year 3 of our project, with a focus on four papers-in-progress: • Paper # 1: Our project utilized several innovative strategies formore »collecting narratives from our 79 interviewees. In particular, we developed a card-sorting activity to learn more about students’ reasons for choosing their engineering major. We have explored a variety of ways to analyze the data that illustrate the value of this type of data collection strategy and which will be of value to other researchers interested in decision making where there is a potentially complex set of factors, such as those found in deciding on a major. • Paper # 2: We summarized student responses to a pre-interview climate survey about three domains – Teaching and Learning, Faculty and Peer Interactions, and Belonging and Commitment. We investigated two questions: Are there differences between persisters and switchers? And, are there differences by study major? Results indicate substantial differences between persisters and switchers and some differences between ME and ECE students. • Paper # 3: Preliminary analysis of interviews of 10 HBCU Black students and 10 PWI Black students revealed that students enact several different types of community cultural wealth, particularly family, navigational, aspirational, social and resistant capital. Early results suggest that the HBCU students enacted a different form of family capital that resided in their “HBCU family” and the opportunities that their college-based networks afforded them to succeed in the major. PWI students described various forms of navigational capital and assets that were enacted in order to succeed at their study institutions. Our paper concludes with implications for university policies and practices aimed toward underrepresented students.« less