The Role of Pre-Collegiate Heuristic Knowledge: Expanding the Local Model of Minority Student Success

To make money, one must first have money. Similarly, to acquire knowledge, one must first know how to play the game of knowledge acquisition. The Local Model of Minority Student Success (LMMSS) introduced by Padilla, Trevino, Gonzalez and Trevino (1997) suggests that successful minority students acquire certain campus specific heuristic or informal knowledge and in the process become experts at being successful within a particular environment. Additionally, the acquisition and expansion of informal knowledge early in student careers is crucial for retention in college. Not addressed is the role of informal knowledge students bring to college nor the impact of informal knowledge on acquiring formal or theoretical knowledge. We seek to expand LMMSS by examining the role of social and cultural capital on pre-collegiate informal knowledge, this capital’s subsequent impact on the acquisition of collegiate informal knowledge, as well as the impact on the acquisition of formal or theoretical knowledge. We theorize that the accumulative advantages linked to social and cultural capital explain differing trajectories of knowledge acquisition within populations of under-served minority undergraduate engineering students. Assuming the challenges faced and the resources available to overcome those challenges are understood and experienced universally prevents education reformers from thinking and acting beyond homogeneous racial suppositions. Our quasi-longitudinal, semi-structured ethnographic interview research design invited students to share their experiences as under-served minority students in undergraduate engineering education. 159 students chose to share their stories.

One to two hour interviews were conducted by graduate students. Each interview was transcribed, coded by themes, and analyzed using an iterative interpretive approach. Additional quantitative data were generated from a preliminary demographic questionnaire, an engineering attitudes survey and academic transcripts. Data suggest student paths to success vary as a result of differential accumulation of advantages linked to capital. High capital students enter college already “experts” possessing knowledge of the local academic environment and the resources for action. Large volumes of accumulated advantage ease access to formal knowledge. Low capital students enter college with little of the knowledge or the resources to negotiate the academic environment. These low capital students expend more time and energy negotiating an unfamiliar environment, building peer-to-peer networks and developing institutional relationships to acquire the heuristic knowledge needed to become “experts” at being successful in college. Low volumes of accumulated advantage hinder acquisition of formal knowledge. We position our work within a growing body of qualitative methodology in engineering education that employs a grounded theoretical framework for its explanatory power. We seek to expand the examination of differential success of undergraduate engineering students across and within various ethnicities and backgrounds by thinking beyond homogenous ethnic/racial assumptions. Finally, we seek to encourage further examination of the power and politics impacting access to knowledge that favors some and disadvantages others.

Available from: AERA Archive

Foor, C. E., S. E. Walden, D. A. Trytten and R. L. Shehab (2010). The Role of Pre-Collegiate Heuristic Knowledge: Expanding the Local Model of Minority Student Success. Proceedings of 2010 AERA Annual Conference, Denver.

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