Where Successful Latino/a Engineering Undergraduates find Community at a Predominately White Research University

The Research Institute for STEM Education conducts mixed-methods research seeking to identify the factors contributing to successful completion of an engineering degree by under-represented and under-served minority students at a predominately white, research institution. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Rather than treat these students as a homogenous population, we disaggregate students by different racial/ ethnic groups and by different life experiences as we uncover the obstacles encountered and the strategies employed to surpass them. Using a semi-structured, quasi-longitudinal interview protocol inspired by previous ethnographic or qualitative studies of college students, we asked 165 non-majority undergraduate engineering students to share their lived experiences as minority students in undergraduate engineering programs at this institution. Invitations to participate were extended to students in their sophomore, junior, or senior years and were repeated annually until graduation. Of the 165 students who participated in the study, 37 self-identified with Hispanic or Hispanic-American ethnicity. The 23 male and 14 female Latino/a students provided 56 interviews over five semesters. Even within this relatively small group of students, a variety of backgrounds are represented. Over one-fourth of the students consider Spanish their primary language and another 9% report Spanish as their first, but not currently primary language. One-fourth of the students are from rural areas or small towns, another one-fourth are from suburban communities, and one-half are from urban areas. Fifty-nine percent report at least one parent has earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Seven students are first-generation in the United States, whereas almost one-half were born in the U.S. to at least one immigrant parent.

With these varied personal and pre-college community experiences, it seems unlikely that a single academic community would fit the needs of all these students. Using a theoretical perspective based on Tinto’s model of student engagement, we will examine the communities formed in student organizations and programs as described in the student interviews. This paper will address the research question: How do Hispanic students’ personal backgrounds influence their sense of belonging and ability to find community within a predominately white institution?

Available from: ASEE Archive

Walden, S. E. and R. L. Shehab (2009). Where Successful Latino/a Engineering Undergraduates find Community at a Predominately White Research University. Proceedings of 2009 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Austin, TX.

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