Theses Doctoral

Understanding the Academic Help-Seeking Strategies and Experiences of Black First-Generation Engineering Undergrads

Dansby Russell, Megan

Many explanations for why students leave engineering programs fail to look more closely at unique help-seeking cultural norms of first-generation (“first-gen”) students that tend to conflict with help-seeking cultural norms of undergraduate engineering programs. “First-gen” in this study applies to students with neither parent nor guardian holding a four-year bachelor’s degree, while “continuing-gen” applies to continuing-generation students with at least one parent holding a bachelor’s degree. Although statistical odds are stacked against many first-gens, some of these individuals persevere through rigorous engineering programs using effective help-seeking strategies. This mixed methods study explores what patterns in help-seeking beliefs and behaviors may be specific to Black first-gen undergraduates relative to other first-gen and continuing-gen peers. This study also seeks to understand the help-seeking experiences of Black first-gen engineering undergraduates that contribute to the observed pattern differences among demographics. Additionally, this study aims to understand how successful help-seeking strategies and experiences of Black first-gens allow them to persevere in engineering. Likert scale questionnaire responses revealed that the Black first-gens in this study were less comfortable seeking academic help from faculty relative to other first-gen and continuing-gen peers. Qualitative interviews revealed that a primary reason for this discomfort stemmed from faculty behaviors that discouraged help-seeking attempts such as making demeaning comments, singling out Black students in class, impatience during office hours, no regard for class comprehension, and a lack of personal connection. The Black first-gens in this study managed to persevere in engineering by turning to religious faith and community for support, having fictive kin relationships with personable faculty, and adopting a mix of independent and interdependent norms within their study groups. These findings help inform institutions about improving the help-seeking experiences of Black first-gen engineering undergraduates. Additionally, this research provides useful guidance to other Black first-gen students about effective help-seeking strategies in engineering.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Thesis Advisors
Mensah, Felicia
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 31, 2020