The Career Goal-Setting Processes of Black Woman Engineering Majors

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Virginia Tech


Despite widespread efforts to reduce inequities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) job market, huge disparities remain for both African Americans and women in those sectors of employment. Extant literature affirms that Black women encounter various challenges when pursuing STEM careers. More specifically, the research on Black women in engineering focuses primarily on their experiences in academia and does not include their experiences as undergraduates transitioning into the industry workforce. To address these gaps in the literature, this study explored the career goal-setting (CGS) processes of Black woman engineering majors (BWEMs) through qualitative inquiry.

Using a phenomenological approach, the researcher implemented a two-interview sequence with five Black/African American women enrolled in their final year of a baccalaureate engineering program at a predominantly White institution (PWI) in the southeast. Possible selves theory (Lee and Oyserman, 2009; Strauss, Griffin, and Parker, 2012) served as the framework for the guiding research questions and interview protocol, which were designed to capture the essence of the participants' experiences as they respectively engaged in setting career goals.

The findings revealed that the participants' CGS processes encompassed a series of cognitive steps, which included their thoughts about goal-setting in general, exploring engineering careers, making adjustments academically, finding an area of career specialization, and dealing with anxiety related to the challenges they encountered as engineering majors. In addition, possible selves theory was used to explain how the participants' understanding of their experiences in current contexts influenced who they wanted to become in future work conditions.



Black Women, Engineering Majors, Career Goal-Setting, Possible Selves