What Motivates Latiné Engineers?

         Climate change, artificial intelligence, and social media are global challenges. To solve these, we need engineers that prioritize the greater good. 

Research shows that Latiné students, or students of Latin American descent of any gender, want to become engineers to benefit society. Supporting Latiné students would help train a new generation of engineers to tackle these problems. But not all college students who decide to major in engineering stick with it until graduation. This commitment is called "academic engagement." 

To increase engagement among Latiné students, we wanted to know what barriers they face compared to White students. What support do they find helpful? Latinas and white women encounter more challenges in engineering than white men. Therefore, we also compared responses between Latiné and White students, and between women and men. 

  We interviewed 32 undergraduate students at 11 universities. We interviewed these students twice, nine months apart, to learn about their experiences over the past year. We asked about their program, their relationships with other students and professors, and what motivated them to persist in engineering.

  We found four themes in our data: (1) Dominance of White Male Culture, (2) Resistance, (3) Psychological Effects and Practices, and (4) Engineering Identity. Students often said the culture of their engineering program valued individual effort and competition. This lined up with responses from White male students, who usually said they wanted to earn a high salary (Dominance of White Male Culture). They also wanted to succeed in a competitive environment. Latiné students resisted this culture by connecting with others (Resistance). They valued their relationships to Latiné professors and their peers. They cared about financial support, mutual trust and friendship, social responsibility, and altruism. Latina students often said they wanted to return to and support their communities. They also wanted to inspire future Latiné engineers. 

Students either conformed to or rejected the competitive individual culture (Psychological Effects and Practices). Their academic engagement depended on how well they felt they fit into the culture of their program (Engineering Identity). They were less engaged when they felt the culture did not align with their values.

Our study aimed to understand what factors impact Latiné students’ commitment to becoming engineers. We found that Latiné students’ values and purpose for becoming an engineer were central to their engagement. They identified with resistance to oppression. They focused on giving back to their community. And they were more engaged when they felt their academic program and engineering field supported their desire to help others and benefit society.

  Our study had several limitations. Most of the students we interviewed were at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). We did not explore various Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). We also did not consider factors like immigration, social class, or racial identity within Latiné students. Most students we interviewed were in their first two years of college. Interviews with students near graduation could inform us about transitioning into the workforce. Our findings can be used to create more inclusive engineering classes and departments. 

Engineering can help address societal issues in oppressed communities. Emphasizing these community values and collaboration can help attract and retain more Latiné students. And we need engineers with these values to help solve tomorrow’s toughest challenges. 

Written By: Patton Garriott

Academic Editor: Neuroscientist

Non-Academic Editor: Fashion Designer

Original Paper

• Title: How Latiné engineering students resist White male engineering culture: A multi-institution analysis of academic engagement

• Authors: Patton O. Garriott, Ayli Carrero Pinedo, Heather K. Hunt, Rachel L. Navarro, Lisa Y. Flores, Cerynn D. Desjarlais, David Diaz, Julia Brionex, Bo Hyun Lee, Evelyn Ayala, Lecticia D. Martinez, Xiaotian Hu, Megan K. Smith, Han Na Suh, Gloria G. McGillen

• Journal: Journal of Engineering Education

• Date Published: 13 June 2023

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