The Experiences of African-American Males on Multiracial Student Teams in Engineering
Cross, Kelly J.
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Team projects in engineering are critical sites for professional and personal development as students interact with peers and faculty on projects designed to simulate engineering work. These projects allow students to try on professional roles and establish a sense of identity within their field, which in turn influences their retention through college and into engineering careers. However, team projects can present challenges specific to students from underrepresented populations. While research on women's team experiences is strong, few researchers have studied African-Americans. To fill this gap, the current study explores the experiences of African-American males on multiracial student teams and the impact of those teams on these students' identities. This qualitative study employed a phenomenological approach, using a three-interview sequence with eight African-American male engineering students as they worked on team projects at a predominantly white institution (PWI). The interviews gathered background information about each participant, explored the team functionality during the project, and enabled participants to reflect on the team experience. Two theoretical frameworks were considered during the study design: 1) intergroup contact theory provided a lens to explore interracial interactions, and 2) multiple identities provided a lens to analyze the impact of team dynamics on students' intersecting identities. The findings provide a rich understanding of the team experiences of African-American male students that can enhance project-based teaching within engineering to more explicitly attend to team dynamics, including interracial interactions for students of color. Both positive and negative impacts on African-American males in engineering emerged from the intergroup contact within the team environment. Specifically, the results indicate that these participants enjoyed their multiracial student teaming experiences, supported by informal social interactions among team members and generally positive professional interactions. However, the study participants also entered their team experiences fully aware of the negative stereotypes about African-Americans in engineering and proactively worked to dispel those stereotypes.
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