2012 ASEE Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas.

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The ability of this nation to provide a growing economy, strong health and human services, and a secure and safe nation depends upon a vibrant, creative, and diverse engineering and science workforce” (Blue, et al., 2005, p. 4). To address these global opportunities and challenges, and for the U.S. to remain globally competitive, it is necessary for our engineering workforce to be diverse.Nevertheless, the U.S. cannot claim a diverse engineering workforce, and its engineering student bodies are certainly not diverse despite the legislation and programs put in place to increase racial, gender, and socioeconomic (SES) representation. Programs and resources that increase racial and gender diversity in engineering have the advantage of creating an environment for the social interaction of people who have some shared experience as well as an interest in engineering. As a result, women and students of color in engineering have a variety of local and national programs from which they might seek support. Low socioeconomic status is both less visible and more likely to be concealed, so there are few formal programs to support or mentor low-SES students who want to pursue engineering. With an estimated projection of 1.67 million engineers needed to support the U.S. job market by 2016, there is some urgency to better understand how to encourage socioeconomic diversity in the engineering workforce and student bodies.The purpose of this qualitative study is to give low-SES students an opportunity to share their stories about the influences that prompted them to choose to study engineering. The research question this study addresses is: What are the lived experiences of low-SES first-generation students who pursue engineering study? Specifically, what are the influences of low-SES first-generation students that inspired them to study engineering?This study used a phenomenological inquiry approach, purposive criterion sampling, and descriptive and topical coding. Interviews were semi-structured, and consisted of open-ended questions. Transcripts were coded to identify general and unique themes that will be explored in the paper. Whereas family nurturers had a strong influence on college aspiration and attendance, encouragers with knowledge of engineering (who were not necessarily family members)particularly influenced these students to pursue engineering. Although the lack of engineering role models in the media has long been cited as an issue in the recruitment of students to engineering, the students in this study reported strong influence from television shows, books,and the internet. There was also evidence that some students developed an interest in engineering through extracurricular activities. A desire to escape low-SES circumstances through an engineering career was a strong influence among the participants.


2012, ASEE, first generation, students

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