As of 2017, Black women made up 7.2% of the college-age population but only 1% of engineering degree recipients. These alarming percentages represent a reversal of educational trends, which indicate that, for bachelor’s degree attainment, across all disciplines and ethnic groups, Black women are the most educated group compared to their male counterparts. From an asset-based standpoint, Black women who persist in engineering: (1) had representation in the form of mentors and role models, (2) had access to inclusive formal and/or informal STEM education and, (3) were in supportive organizational and institutional climates. Although research in these areas has increased, it has primarily been within formal settings. With children spending about 81.5% of their waking hours outside of formal education and underrepresented minorities (URMs) representing 61% of those students (24% of whom are Black), it’s imperative to further explore their experiences in these settings, especially longitudinally and, specifically within informal engineering educational settings. Given growing STEM workforce demands, national-level broadening participation efforts and the need to further understand the formation of Black women as engineers, this project will consist of the development of a longitudinal database with profiles of Black women who have completed engineering degrees and participated within an informal engineering program. Throughout this five-year CAREER proposal, Black women’s participation within the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program, hosted by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and other experiences related to their educational journey, will be studied. Since 2017, over 5,000 mentor teachers and 20,000 students across the U.S. cities have participated in SEEK.
In collaboration with NSBE, a three phased approach will be conducted. Phase I: development of a database with participant profiles using longitudinal demographic and survey data results. Phase II: qualitative interviews will be conducted with results added to participant profiles. Phase III: data from previous phases will be examined and validated through the support and guidance of external experts. Results will be shared with K-12, higher education and industry stakeholders through the education professional development. Using intersectionality, social and cultural capital, and anti-deficit achievement as theoretical frameworks, the following research questions will be answered: (RQ1) To what extent does participation within informal and formal engineering education develop over time to impact Black women’s formation as engineers towards degree completion? (RQ2) How do individual, institutional, and cultural factors within the interchange of informal and formal engineering education contribute to Black women’s formation as engineers and persistence in engineering degree programs? This project is transformative in that it will acknowledge the non-monolithic state of Black women (i.e. specific engineering degree obtained, cultural differences, age at degree completion, institution type attended, etc.) and experiences along their journeys. Second, in terms of the methods, leveraging large data sets from coeducational and single-sex, informal engineering sites to develop participant profiles within a single database and analyzing them longitudinally is a strategy that has not been done. Third, the theoretical framing with intersectionality as a base and with social and cultural capital through an asset-based approach is novel and transformative. Through the educational professional development, best practices found will advance research efforts and provide K-12, university and industry stakeholders with in-depth knowledge of tools that can be implemented through their programmatic efforts. Results will impact efforts to increase interest in, recruitment of and support for the persistence of Black women and girls in engineering education. Four dissemination workshops will allow asset-based results to be shared with an even broader, more diverse audience including organizations such as ASEE, SHPE, SWE, ACA, WEPAN, ACLU and professional engineering societies.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.