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This content will become publicly available on October 8, 2023

Title: Special Session: Inhibition to Antiracist Progress – Confronting the Intersection of Shame and Racism in Engineering Education
In this special session, we invited participants to identify how they might be interacting with cultures of anti-Blackness of engineering education environments through the potent experience of racial shame. The facilitators, informed by their respective backgrounds in anti-racism and professional shame, guided the participants through an interactive series of activities that inspire reflective thinking and, more importantly, a commitment to act to bolster justice and equity in engineering education cultures.
Award ID(s):
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Proceedings of the Frontiers in Education Conferences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. BACKGROUND Previous work has identified the reality of structural constraints placed on engineering students from underrepresented gender, racial, or ethnic backgrounds, a process known as minoritization. Students from minoritized and marginalized backgrounds are often expected to overcome additional obstacles in order to be successful in engineering or to claim identity as an engineer. Such a cultural backdrop contributes to the experience of professional shame, which has not yet been characterized in the lived experiences of engineering students who identify with minoritized backgrounds. PURPOSE We contend that professional shame is a major factor in both creating and perpetuating cycles of marginalization that inhibit students from forming a professional identity as an engineer or succeeding in their academic program. Anchored in theoretical foundations of psychology and sociology, we define professional shame as a painful emotional experience that occurs when individuals perceive themselves to be wholly inadequate in relation to identity-relevant standards within a professional domain. In this paper, we examine the lived experiences of professional shame in undergraduate engineering students in the United States who identify with racial, gender, or ethnic backgrounds that are minoritized within the structural constraints of their engineering programs. METHODS To answer our research question: How do studentsmore »from minoritized gender, racial or ethnic backgrounds experience professional shame within the context of engineering education? We conducted an interpretative methodological analysis (IPA). Specifically, we conducted semi-structured interviews with junior engineering majors (n = 7) from two predominantly white institutions (PWIs) who self-identified as being from a minoritized gender, racial, or ethnic background. We found IPA to be especially effective in answering our research question while affirming the nuances of the diversity found in our participants’ gender, racial and ethnic backgrounds. We carefully analyzed the interview transcripts, generating descriptive, linguistic, and contextual comments. These comments informed multiple emergent themes for each participant, which were subsequently integrated into robust themes that characterized the psychological experiences shared by all participants. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS Our findings are summarized in four robust, psychological themes. First, minoritized identities were salient in moments of professional shame. Second, in response to professional shame, students sought out confirmation of belonging within the engineering space. Third, their perception of engineering as an exceptionally difficult major that required exceptional smartness intensified the shame experience. And, finally, participants experienced a tension between wanting to adhere to engineering stereotypes and wanting to diverge from or alter engineering stereotypes. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPLICATIONS Through examining participants’ experiences of shame and subsequent struggle to belong and claim identity as an engineer, we seek to address efforts in bolstering diversity, equity, and inclusion that may be hindered by the permeation of professional shame in the experience of minoritized students. We see these findings as critical in giving insight on how minoritization occurs and so that equity can become a systemic objective for everyone in the engineering community rather than the burden only on the shoulders of those who are marginalized by the community.« less
  2. This paper summarizes the current status of our NSF CAREER investigation of engineering faculty members’ experiences of professional shame. In the first year of this project, we used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to examine the emotional experience among individual faculty members in engineering programs. Our objectives are anchored in our overarching goal to understand the connections between the emotion regulation of engineering faculty and the academic cultures that embed them. This paper focuses on the work that has been completed in the first year of this project examining the individual experiences of engineering faculty with professional shame. We report on general patterns from the early stages of our analysis of interview transcripts with four engineering faculty members (n = 14). We discuss how our IPA work informs the next steps of our overarching investigation, and briefly discuss the broader significance related to the context of faculty wellbeing within engineering education.
  3. 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. 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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
  4. In this workshop, we introduced participants to the tacit and often hidden skills of doing interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to understand lived experience in engineering education. With the growth of IPA research in engineering education, this workshop was designed to sharpen the skills of participants who come with experience in qualitative research and provide practical guidance to participants who may be novices to qualitative research. The workshop was characterized by an interactive style, in which participants collectively analyze a transcript excerpt from an interview with an engineering student regarding their experience of shame. To strengthen the translation of the workshop, the session was intentionally facilitated by both an expert in conducting IPA research and a highly trained engineer who is at the beginning stages of doing IPA.
  5. We are focusing on three interconnected issues that negatively impact engineering disciplinary cultures: (1) diversity and inclusion issues that continue to plague engineering programs; (2) lack of adequate preparation for professional practices; (3) and exclusionary engineering disciplinary cultures that privilege technical knowledge over other forms of knowledge [1]. Although much effort has been devoted to these issues, traditional strategic and problem-solving orientations have not resulted in deep cultural transformations in many engineering programs. We posit that these three issues that are wicked problems. Wicked problems are ambiguous, interrelated and require complex problem-scoping and solutions that are not amenable with traditional and linear strategic planning and problem-solving orientations [2]. As design thinking provides an approach to solve complex problems that occur in organizational cultures [3], we argue that these wicked problems of engineering education cultures might be best understood and resolved through design thinking. As Elsbach and Stigliani contend, “the effective use of design thinking tools in organizations had a profound effect on organizational culture” [3, p. 2279]. However, not all organizational cultures support design thinking approaches well. Despite increasing calls to teach design as a central part of professional formation (e.g., ABET, National Academy of Engineers, etc.), many engineering programs,more »especially larger, legacy programs have not embraced fundamental design thinking [4-5] strategies or values [6-7]. According to Godfrey and Parker, many engineering cultures are characterized by linear epistemologies, “black and white” approaches to problem solving, and strategic “top down” ways of designing [8]. In contrast, design thinking approaches are characterized by ways of thinking and designing that prioritize prototyping, multiple stakeholder perspectives, and iterative problem-solving to address complex problems. In this paper, we examine the effectiveness of design thinking as a tool to address wicked problems in engineering education cultures, and the role of engineering culture itself in shaping the application and effectiveness of design thinking. More specially, we evaluate the role of design thinking in seeking cultural transformation at a School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Purdue University. We analyze interviews of members of the School after they participated in six design thinking sessions. Our previous research explored the effect of design thinking sessions on participant understanding of diversity and inclusion in biomedical engineering [9]. Herein, we explore participant experiences of design thinking sessions toward cultural change efforts regarding diversity and inclusion (D&I) within professional formation in ECE. We identified three tensions (push/pull dynamics of contradictions) that emerged from the participants’ experiences in the design sessions [10]. We conclude by discussing our emerging insights into the effectiveness of design thinking toward cultural change efforts in engineering.« less