2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Push and Pull: Exploring the Engineering Retention Problem for Underrepresented Groups and Gauging Interest in Interdisciplinary Integration into Undergraduate Curriculum

Presented at Student Division (STDT) Technical Session 6: Underserved Student Experiences

Underrepresented minorities (URMs) leave the engineering field at a rate significantly higher than average. Researchers conclude that low self-efficacy, lack of support, and hostile and benevolent discrimination are contributing causes. We contend that URMs’ lack of retention in engineering is due to a push by these causes, as well as a pull towards fields that more closely align with their identity. To explore further, a Qualtrics survey instrument was developed to understand the experiences of people who have fully or partially left the engineering field. We surveyed 47 URM and 38 non-URM participants at various stages of their careers, and found that when URMs leave the engineering field for a non-engineering career, they not only face less bias and discrimination, but also feel as if they are more positively impacting the world. We suggest some methods for retaining URMs in engineering by leveraging interdisciplinary studies to offer better identity coherence by incorporating complex, impactful problem solving into their fields. All participants, especially URMs, expressed interest in the following methods of introducing interdisciplinary aspects to engineering: (1) promoting interdisciplinary internships and intracollegiate research, (2) a revised first-year curriculum to introduce meaningful interdisciplinary-based projects, and (3) facilitation of accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degree programs across different disciplines.

  1. August Kohls Carnegie Mellon University [biography]
  2. Dr. Katherine Fu University of Wisconsin - Madison [biography]
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  • Broadening Participation in Engineering and Engineering Technology
  • engineering
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