Increasing the participation of underrepresented students, including first-generation college students, in engineering plays a central role in sustaining the U.S. research and innovation capacity. Diversity continues to be recognized as an asset in engineering. However, we also know that the culture of engineering has an implicit assumption about who can be and who is recognized as an engineer. There is also a complex relationship between participation in a community of practice and identity. Diverse students must not only author an identity as an engineer but also must grapple with how that identity, historically constructed as white and masculine, becomes a part of how they see themselves.
This research study uses structural equation modeling to examine how first-generation college students’ engineering identity and sense of belongingness in engineering serve as mediators for students’ grit in terms of persistence of effort and consistency of interest. Results reveal that engineering identity has a positive direct effect on students’ sense of belongingness. Both engineering identity and belongingness have a positive direct effect on persistence of effort but were not significant predictors of consistency of interest. Additionally, belongingness is a mediator between engineering identity and persistence of effort. These results begin to uncover how grit is not a stand-alone measure and defies the idea that some students have it while others do not. Persistence of effort is present for first-generation college students when they see themselves as the kinds of people that can do engineering and feel a sense of belongingness within the field. The results of this work highlights ways to support grit development in first-generation college students.
first-generation college students, engineering identity, sense of belonging, grit, structural equation modeling
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