Leveraging Epistemic Exclusion as a Lens for Investigating Black Engineering Students' Undergraduate Research Experiences

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Virginia Tech


Undergraduate research experiences (UREs) are presented as a mechanism for improving the persistence of Black engineering students. However, because most engineering UREs are led by faculty and staff in Colleges of Engineering, it is reasonable to assume they are not immune to the systemic racial issues that plague engineering education. Existing scholarship on epistemic exclusion theorizes that individual biases and institutional practices contribute to faculty of color's scholarship being devalued and deemed illegitimate, but this topic is underexplored in UREs. LSAMP is an NSF-funded program that provides funding for institutions to create UREs for racially minoritized students in STEM, providing a ripe context for exploring the phenomenon of epistemic exclusion in UREs. This explanatory mixed methods study examines facets of epistemic exclusion prevalent in the undergraduate research experiences of Black engineering LSAMP scholars and the practices undergirding it. The findings of this study are based on survey and interview data collected from current and former LSAMP scholars. The survey results reveal perceptions of low levels of epistemic exclusion via scholarly devaluation; and there were no significant differences in survey responses based on race, gender, or whether in an engineering discipline or not. However, the qualitative phase helped explain the quantitative results. Black engineering students, specifically, experienced epistemic exclusion in ways that differ from literature on underrepresented faculty; and they perceived UREs as an opportunity for learning knowledge – not producing it. While positive peer interactions and a welcoming lab enabled epistemic inclusion, a toxic lab culture and inadequate URE program structures enabled epistemic exclusion. These findings have implications for faculty mentors, URE program administrators, policymakers, and education researchers. They are valuable for advancing our understanding of Black engineering students participating in UREs, contributing to national efforts to broaden participation of racially minoritized students in engineering education, and diversifying the research enterprise and the engineering workforce.



undergraduate research experiences, Black students, engineering education, LSAMP, epistemic exclusion