CAREER: Investigation of Undergraduate Learning Contexts Considering Ethical, Racial, and Disciplinary Identities of Students in Engineering and Computer Science

Project: Research project

Project Details


In consultation with program officer, PI has made decision to begin work on this study once new appointment at Northwestern university begins (September 1, 2018). Therefore, as outlined in the project summary, the work to be accomplished includes both the ethnographic as well as design-based research components of the study. Both of these will be carried out once PI arrives at Northwestern university. Overview It is difficult to overstate the degree to which advances in engineering and computer science (CS) are transforming the social, environmental, economic, and political realities of the 21st century. Yet, prior research has shown that sociopolitical and ethical concerns are largely suppressed within engineering and CS science programs (Astin, 1993a; Astin, 1993b; Garibay, 2015), and importantly, that among STEM undergraduates, “USC [underrepresented students of color] have significantly higher aspirations to work for social change than their non-USC counterparts” (Garibay, 2015, p.17). Other research has shown that students of color often experience the climate of STEM undergraduate programs as alienating and disjointed from their racial and cultural identities (Brown, 2002; Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Ong, Wright, Espinosa, & Orfield, 2011). However, much less is known about the complex interplay between students’ ethical, racial, and disciplinary identities, how these identities develop (or regress) over the course of their undergraduate years and across the multiple formal and informal contexts students experience, or how to explicitly design learning environments that jointly cultivate students’ multiple identities. At its core, this NSF CAREER proposal combines longitudinal ethnographic and design-based methodologies to investigate how undergraduate learning contexts may constrain and/or facilitate productive interactions between students’ ethical, racial, and disciplinary identities in engineering and CS. Intellectual Merit Findings from this study will contribute to fundamental learning sciences research on identity development in STEM, as well as to the knowledge base about how to design equitable STEM learning environments. The design component of this study, by synthesizing science and technology studies (STS) perspectives along with the benefits of undergraduate research experiences, creates novel opportunities for students to explore the ethical dimensions and social justice potential of new technologies. Empirical findings from the design experiment will help identify design and pedagogical principles that jointly cultivate multiple student identities within STEM learning environments. Finally, this project contributes to the scholarly and national conversation on issues of equity in STEM education in conceptually and methodologically unique ways. Few studies have considered the role of ethical identity in the experiences of students of color in engineering and CS, or examined their experiences over a sustained period and across multiple contexts. By combining longitudinal ethnographic and design-based approaches, this study contributes to our understanding of how undergraduate students of color experience the culture of engineering and CS departments, while also exploring new educational possibilities that take seriously the ethical and sociocultural potential of these disciplines. Broader Impacts This project will have several broader impacts for multiple communities of research and practice. Findings from the design project will delineate specific design principles and pedagogical strategies for integrating
Effective start/end date10/1/181/31/24


  • National Science Foundation (HRD-1855494-003)


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