F7-D&BP2-1 - Experiences of Black Persisters and Switchers in Electrical, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering Departments in the USA

3. Research Full Paper
Catherine Brawner1 , Marisa Orr2, Rebecca Brent3, Catherine Mobley2
1 Research Triangle Educational Consultants
2 Clemson University
3 Education Designs, Inc.

We examine the reported experiences of Black students who are majoring in or switched from electrical (EE), computer (CPE), or mechanical (ME) engineering. Prior work has shown different persistence trajectories for Black students in these majors relative to White students, as well as differences between Black men and Black women. We surveyed 79 students at four institutions in the USA, three Predominantly White Institutions and 1 Historically Black University. In all, 33 students who had ever majored in ME, 27 in CPE, and 19 in EE completed a pre-interview survey that asked about aspects of the learning environment, faculty and peer relationships, and perception of belonging. Fifty-six students persisted in these majors while 23 switched to other majors. Compared to switchers, persisters are more likely to feel that the quality of instruction is higher, feel more encouraged by professors and peers to continue, and feel a greater sense of belonging in their departments. ME students are much more likely to experience group learning in their classes than either EE or CPE students and their ME peers are more likely to encourage them to persist. The difference in persistence between EE and CPE may be explained in part by the attraction of the computer science major as an alternative option for computer engineering majors; half of our CPE switchers switched to computer science. However, teaching quality may be an additional factor as CPE students perceived teaching quality to be lower than EE students did. Future research will explore these findings in the context of our in-depth interviews with these students.