F7-D&BP2-4 - Critical Analyses of Outcomes of Marginalized Undergraduate Engineering Students

3. Research Full Paper
Corin L. Bowen1 , Aaron W. Johnson2, Kenneth G. Powell1
1 University of Michigan, Department of Aerospace Engineering
2 University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences

This study applies critical and liberative theories in order to understand the disproportionately low student outcomes of marginalized undergraduate students studying engineering at a large, highly selective public university in the United States. In addition to looking at women students and students of color, we also examine the effects of social class on educational opportunity and performance, hypothesizing that access to financial capital is correlated to student success. In recognition of class-related structural oppression, this study introduces the framework of Freirean critical theory and other anti-oppressive frameworks as lenses through which we observe and analyze student experiences and outcomes.

We pursue a quantitative study in which we investigate engineering student outcomes based on reported gender, ethnicity, and household income level. Dependent variables include degree completion rates, time to graduation, and grade point average after the first four semesters of study. We find that students of color and working class students experience lower rates of graduation, prolonged time to degree, and lower grade point averages than students who do not fall into either of these categories. These results are heavily influenced by the intersectionality of students of color and working class students, as the two groups largely overlap both in the United States population and in the engineering student body at this institution.

The results support liberative theoretical claims that societal structures, such as patriarchalism, racism, and capitalism, have filtering effects that impact the opportunities available to individuals with marginalized identities throughout their lives. As incremental interventions fail to address the roots of these problems, they cannot entirely remove the debilitating obstacles facing students from marginalized identity groups; the only true solution lies in liberation from oppressive social structures. In accordance with critical and liberative theories, engineering educators can and should contribute to liberative efforts by employing pedagogical methods that challenge structural oppression.