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  1. The ongoing lack of diversity in STEM fields has been described as both: a) a critical issue with a detrimental impact on the United States’ ability to compete with global innovation (Chen, 2013) and b) a systemic issue that excludes certain groups of people from opportunities for economic mobility and job security (Wait & McDonald, 2019). Historically excluded groups, such as women, Black/African Americans, Latin Americans, and economically disadvantaged individuals, continue to be in the minority in STEM (Carnevale et al., 2021). Through the years of research on historically excluded groups, researchers have asserted the importance of developing an engineering identity in determining later success in engineering (Allen & Eisenhart, 2017; Kang et al., 2019; Stipanovic & Woo, 2017). With only 8% of all engineering students entering higher education from low income backgrounds (NCES, 2016; Major et. al, 2018), these students often face significant barriers to their success (Chen, 2013; Hoxby & Avery, 2012), yet there has been very little attention given to them in the research historically. Our study seeks to address the gap related to this population and support the developing understanding of how high achieving, low income students form an engineering identity, as well as the intersectionality and salience of their other socio-cultural identities. Using the theoretical framework of figured worlds (Holland et al., 1998; Waide-James & Schwartz, 2019), we sought to explore what factors shaped the formation of an engineering identity for high achieving, low income college students participating in an engineering scholarship program. Specifically, our research questions were: 1) What factors shape the formation of engineering identity for high achieving, low income students participating in an engineering scholarship program? and 2) How salient are other social identities in the formation of their engineering identity? A constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014) design guided our selection of individual interviews and focus groups as data collection tools, allowing us to tailor our interview questions and shape our programming around the needs of participants. NSF SSTEM-sponsored program activities that could shape the figured world of participants included intentional mentoring, cohort-based seminars, targeted coursework in design courses, and connecting students to internships and co-ops. Emerging themes for our preliminary data analysis reveal the importance of peer relationships, professional mentorship, and cultural wealth, including social capital. Preliminary results from this study have the potential to increase understanding of how to best support the success of high achieving, low income college students in engineering programs, including the implementation of targeted interventions and supports, as well as shed further light on the skills they use to overcome systemic barriers. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  2. Due to the continued lack of diversity in engineering and the limited research on socioeconomic status, the objective of this project was to understand how high-achieving, low-income engineering students utilized cultural capital to carve successful academic pathways. This study used a qualitative inductive approach to address the research question: how did high-achieving low-income engineering students use cultural capital to succeed academically during COVID- 19? Results showed that participants utilized social, navigational, and aspirational capital to succeed during the pandemic. The results expand understanding of this sample of students and their resolve to succeed academically using cultural capital. 
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