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This research study explored first-generation college students’ in engineering post-graduation career intentions based on responses to a quantitative survey. In this paper, we answer the following research questions: 1) How do first-generation college students’ measures of physics, mathematics, and engineering identity constructs differ compared to non-first-generation college students? and 2) How does a physics identity influence first-generation college student’s choice of an engineering major and career aspirations? The data came from the Intersectionality of Non- normative Identities in the Cultures of Engineering (InIce) survey. InIce was completed by 2,916 first-year engineering college students enrolled in four institutions across the United States—72% non-first-generation college students, 20% first-generation college students, and 8% non-reporting students. The survey measured attitudinal profiles of belongingness in engineering, identity constructs (i.e., engineering, physics, and mathematics), affective measures, and demographic information.

Previous studies quantitatively and qualitatively measured and validated the constructs that make up math identity, physics identity and engineering identity (i.e., interest in the subject, recognition by others, and beliefs about one’s performance/competence) for predicting engineering choice. To answer the first research question, a Welch’s t-test was used to compare the averages of first-generation college students and non-first-generation college students on overall measures of mathematics, physics, and engineering identity as well as the constructs of interest, recognition, and performance/competence in each subject area. This t-test was selected because it corrects unequal variance within the two populations. To answer the second research question, we used multiple linear regression to predict the choices of STEM and non-stem majors using measures of identity, affective factors, and first-generation college student status. Results from the first analysis demonstrate that first-generation college students entered engineering with a high sense of engineering identity, particularly in the performance/competence and interest constructs. Regression results showed that first-generation college students’ physics identity positively predicted choice of a non-STEM career; that is, first-generation college students with high physics identity were more interested in non-STEM careers (e.g., non-profit/non-government organization and medicine/health). This work highlights that first-generation college students may have different career pathway intentions and motivations in studying engineering during college.


first-generation college students, physics identity, STEM career, STEM major

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Verdín, D., & Godwin, A. (2017, June), Physics Identity Promotes Alternative Careers for First-Generation College Students in Engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.