Post-secondary students' and work-site supervisors' perceptions of diversity experiences and needs of students in a school-to-work transition program
The purposes of this study were ( a) to provide documented accounts of cooperative education students' experiences when interacting with diverse groups and (b) to obtain cooperative education students' and work-site supervisors' perceptions of the knowledge and attitudes needed by cooperative education students to interact effectively with diverse groups. The outcomes of the study provided information related to the multicultural theory of knowledge being positional and relating to the knower's values and experiences.
Focus groups (group interviews) that were designed to uncover participants' points of view and perceptions were used to collect the data. Four groups of six cooperative education students and two groups of six cooperative education work-site supervisors participated in the study. Relevant topics, issues, and concepts relating to cultural and ethnic diversity derived from a review of the literature were summarized and incorporated in the discussion guides used with the student and work-site supervisor groups. All participants completed demographic data sheets. Each session was tape recorded, and the researcher took field notes.
The tapes of each group were transcribed. Transcripts were analyzed using ethnographic summaries and content analysis. Also field notes and data sheets were compiled. Recurring themes were identified and marked under the categories of: school experiences; work experiences; personal experiences; school, home and personal experiences combined; student perceptions of knowledge and attitudes needed; and work-site supervisor perceptions of knowledge and attitudes needed. Five major themes that evolved from the study were: understanding, self-esteem, acceptance, principles, and interactions.
Self-esteem was the dominant theme for all three questions followed by acceptance, interactions, understanding, and principles. The study revealed that productive interaction with diverse groups took place more often when students felt good about themselves. Giving value to themselves allowed them to also give value to others. Their self-confidence was reflected in their appearance, lifestyle, behavior, professional accomplishments, and relationships.
Study results also revealed that effective interaction with diverse groups was often inhibited by students’ preconceived perceptions derived from a lack of knowledge. Information about culturally and ethnically diverse groups' beliefs, customs, languages, family backgrounds, ethnicities, communication styles, and/or perspectives were crucial to clarifying such perceptions.
Both work-site supervisors and cooperative education students responded that communication was also essential to effective interaction. Structured group settings that allow for student socialization with diverse groups were recommended.