One primary goal of engineering education, as with any educational enterprise, is to achieve particular learning outcomes. For engineering education, one format for articulation of student learning outcomes is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) outcomes a-k. Continuous improvement as it relates to engineering education and ABET outcomes a-k traditionally has been approached from the standpoint of (1) faculty professional development to become better teachers, (2) increasing student exposure to the practice of engineering through corporate internships and research experiences and (3) incorporation of the latest technology to assist students. However, it is important to realize that the ABET ladder of outcomes which represents all levels of Bloom’s taxonomy is overlaid with the student life experience represented by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Thus, if a student has not successfully advanced beyond the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy, belonging, it may become the bottleneck in the goal to achieve learning outcomes.
Recognizing the importance of student belonging in engineering education, researchers at multiple institutions began a multi-year study of belonging among engineering and computer science students. The main goal of this larger study is to test the linkage between STEM student’s sense of belonging while in school and their engagement in their studies for different types of institutions. One potential outcome of the larger study is a list of interventions or best practices to ensure that students have achieved a sense of belonging at their respective institutions. The instrument for the larger study is a 200+ item survey that, in addition to addressing the central research question, lends itself to testing additional linkages.
In this paper, the focus is on engineering students, gender similarities and differences in belonging and the linkage between sense of belonging and academic grades. During spring 2010, students completed surveys at University of Washington (UW), Tuskegee University (TU), Simmons College, Seattle Pacific University, and Minnesota State University at Mankato. Simmons College, Seattle Pacific University and Minnesota State University at Mankato do not have chemical engineering programs. Consequently, data from those institutions was not included for this work. Students from Tuskegee University (TU) and University of Washington (UW) were recruited primarily from engineering disciplines. Based on their self-reports, the students included in these analyses were advanced or graduating undergraduates (seniors or 5th-year seniors). Thirty six engineering students from TU participated and ninety-nine engineering students from UW participated. The chemical engineering participants totaled eight or 22% and thirty five or 35% from TU and UW respectively.
Data from TU and UW were analyzed separately. Then, t-tests were conducted to determine if the means for the males and females were significantly different. The means alone suggest that females at both schools were less likely to feel that they belong to their academic major but more likely to feel connected to the university community. However, the differences were not statistically different and lead to the conclusion that male and female graduating seniors in engineering report the same level of belonging for all levels at both UW and TU. Finally, examination of Pearson correlations between GPA in major and the levels of belonging revealed notable findings for female students in the engineering majors at Tuskegee University. The significant correlation (0.67) between the sense of belonging in class and GPA in major indicates that females who reported more positive sense of belonging in their classes also reported higher GPAs in their major. A similar finding occurred for the correlation (0.55) between belonging at the university level and GPA in the major. The correlations for the other groups ranged from low to moderate for these variables.
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