What Should Your Students Join? Pathways for African American Engineering Students’ Development of 21st Century Competencies


While curricular activities have long been the focus of engineering education research and practice, engineering educators have recently begun to recognize the value of what engineering students do outside of the classroom. The underrepresentation of women and minorities in engineering limits the ability of an engineering workforce to meet the needs of the 21st century (National Academy of Engineering, 2004; Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, 2007). Attrition rates in engineering remain disturbingly high, at 57% according to Ohland et al. (2008), despite investments in retention research and efforts to translate findings into practice at all levels of education. However, research has been helpful in understanding persistence    barriers of traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering. Studies examining student engagement is one such research area. Continued participation in    desirable learning activities increases the likelihood of academic success and improved sense of connectedness (Finn & Zimmer, 2012). Emphasizing aspects of engineering that students from diverse background find appealing maybe one way to improve the climate in engineering departments and infuse it with a diversity of ideas and lived experiences (Felder & Brent,2005; Chubin & Babco, 2005).

As part of a larger multi-year project to develop and implement a survey measuring engineering students’ engagement in and outcomes from out-of-class activities (Simmons,et al,2014,2015), a wealth of data on the out-of-class involvement of African American engineering undergraduate students has been collected. Using that data, this research examines the intersectionality of students’ race, ethnicity, and gender, which can help us understand what traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering gain from engaging in out-of- class activities.

The sample was stratified by institution type. In total over 1800 responses    were    received from students enrolled at 6 institutions. The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics and multinomial logistic and linear regression. The results suggest that African American students gain academic and professional competencies valued    by employers by participating in professional organizations (e.g.National Society of Black Engineers), student support services (e.g.minorities in engineering programs) and in residential life (e.g. living learning communities). As we strive to diversify participation in engineering, such insights into involvement can inform the advice we give to students. The presentation informs practitioners, administrators and educators of the specific activities they should  advise African American engineering students to join and outcomes from involvement. These results highlight the pathways some populations use to develop 21st  competencies. These results may help us retain in engineering higher education a broader range of engineers capable of bringing new ideas and ways of thinking into the engineering workforce.

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