(#1432297; 2014-2018; $1,499,000)

PI: Dr. Gladis Kersaint, Education

Dr. Chrystal Smith,
Dr. Hesborn Wao, Internal Medicine,
Dr. George MacDonald, Education, and Mr. Reginald Lee, Education.

Senior Personnel:
Dr. John Skvoretz,
Sociology, and
Dr. Kingsley Reeves, Industrial & Management Systems Engineering
Grant consultant is Dr. Julie Martin, Engineering and Science Education, Clemson University

The purpose of this study is to broaden our understanding about how social capital and cultural models of engineering success (CMES) contribute to the retention and degree attainment of women and minority engineering undergraduates, traditionally under-represented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Social capital refers to the social connections of students and the resources available through those connections. CMES refer to beliefs about how to succeed in an engineering program (i.e. degree attainment.) This research builds on the accumulated knowledge team members gained from a previous NSF-funded project. We hypothesize that women and minority undergraduates who succeed in engineering programs are more likely to 1) enter with and acquire/develop various forms/levels of the social capital and 2) resolve conflicts between their CMES and the culture espoused by the program.

Guided by sociological and cognitive anthropological frameworks, we employ a partially mixed concurrent dominant status design (Leech & Onwuegbuzie, 2009) in which both quantitative (conducted via online surveys) and qualitative (conducted via face-to-face and video interviews) data are collected concurrently to measure the relationship between social capital and CMES and their association with the retention of women and minority engineering undergraduates at 10 colleges of engineering in this four year longitudinal study. Our important “pipeline” outcome variables are: 1) the decision to pursue engineering undergraduate degrees and 2) retention to the fourth year of the degree program. Quantitative data will be weighed more with respect to addressing the research questions and the qualitative data will contextualize and enhance our understandings of the quantitative findings. 
Our research goal is to identify the effects of social capital and CMES on the retention and degree attainment of women and minorities in engineering, and examine the relationship between social capital and CMES. This research is innovative because we are using a multidisciplinary approach to investigate how social capital and CMES increase the retention of women and minority undergraduates in engineering.

Intellectual Merit
The research makes theoretical contributions to the STEM research by introducing cultural model theory from the field of cognitive anthropology to the growing body of literature exploring the relationship of culture and engineering education, and conceptualizing and measuring the relationship between social capital and CMES as it relates to the retention of women and minorities in engineering. Also, by applying CDA to the study of CMES, we are merging the best of advanced IRT analytics from the discipline of education with cognitive anthropology. This positions our study at the forefront of theory-driven methodological advances within the cognitive social sciences as well as STEM education research.

Broader Impacts
This interdisciplinary theory-driven research impacts 1) STEM educators and policymakers by providing valid results about social capital and CMES that can be used to transform engineering culture and improve interventions to broaden the participation of women and minorities, and 2) engineering program cultures and diversity interventions affecting an ~6400 women, ~2800 minority women, and ~9200 minority men at participating universities through our annual written reports, interactive videoconferencing, and collaboration on evidence-based action plans with their faculty/advisors/diversity personnel. We will also impact a broad audience by disseminating our findings to STEM education researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and the general public by 1) publishing scholarly articles, 2) producing of white papers that address STEM education policy implications, and 3) developing press releases for national and regional media.

For more information about the NSF EHR Core Research grant please read this article