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DOI: 10.18260/p.24628


Latina undergraduates pursuing an engineering degree continue to be an underrepresented group at four-year universities. Compared to their male counterparts, fewer women enter the field of engineering; however, of those Latino/as who do matriculate, they have the same likelihood of persisting as their White counterparts. Furthermore, a dearth of underrepresented students such as Latino/as and first-generation college students enter or remain in the field of engineering. The need for increased gender and racial/ethnic representation in engineering is a documented need allowing for the production of a wider range of innovative products that take into consideration different perspectives that represent the make-up of the nation as a whole. Recent studies demonstrate that Latinas who are enrolled in the field of engineering remain in engineering at higher rates than other ethnic minorities. In order to increase and retain greater ethnic and gender diversity in engineering, this research seeks to examine what motivates first-generation Latinas in engineering at an urban public university to pursue engineering and persist. Past research has investigated the experiences of first-generation students more generally, without distinguishing specific populations or their choice of study. In addition, several studies investigate why first-generation and underrepresented students drop out of college; some have found that it is due to an unclear purpose for college, adjustment issues to the college environment, and feelings of isolation. The perspectives of first-generation Latina engineering students are captured through conducting eight qualitative in-depth interviews and through analyzing their narratives. This research elucidates some of the reasons why Latinas choose engineering in college and why they continue in engineering using Achievement Goal Theory (AGT) as the theoretical framework. This theory posits that goals are cognitive accounts of what a person tries to accomplish and one’s purposes or reasons for doing the task. This research demonstrates that participants displayed a higher sense of purpose, not only in mastery and performance, but also in a sense of self-reliance and intellectual self. This research serves as a point of departure towards highlighting ways in which the field of engineering can become a more desirable major for first-generation Latina women. The results of this work point to specific methods for accomplishing this goal.

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