Living, Learning, and Leveraging: An Investigation of Black Males Accessing Community Cultural Wealth and Developing Engineering Attributes

DeLean A Tolbert, Purdue University


Diverse socio-cultural experiences lead children in Black communities towards engineering careers. Recently, scholars have taken a counter-narrative approach to understanding these experiences by viewing them as resource-rich and examining the pre-college influencers of successful Black males in STEM college degrees. Additionally, because a research focus on out-of-school engineering experiences is needed to understand how to broaden participation of historically underrepresented minorities (URM) in engineering. The objective of this study is to investigate relationships between the pre-college lived experiences of Black youth and the college-level engineering experiences of Black men. This exploratory qualitative study investigated the socio-cultural experiences of the African American youth and men along the engineering pathway. Eight middle school aged children and their parents were individually interviewed over a three-year period about their designing, building and creating interests. Thirteen undergraduate engineering students participated in focus groups and discussed their engineering experiences. A counter-narrative approach informed the thematic analysis which was used to identify critical experiences along the engineering pathway. It was found that access to Cultural Community Wealth facilitates the development of engineering traits. The findings provide strong evidence supporting the importance of: 1) acknowledging racial identity in learning environments; 2) the parental influence on educational achievement and engineering interests through verbalized support, guidance and resources; 3) the need to create more accessible engineering programs targeting African American middle school students and 4) the need to help students learn, identify and apply knowledge learned from socio-cultural settings to engineering practice. The findings suggest that many Black male youths already possess desirable engineering traits which can be further advanced through continued engineering education.




Cardella, Purdue University.

Subject Area

African American Studies|Social research|Education|Engineering

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