Exploring the Interpersonal Relationships of Black Men in Undergraduate Engineering Programs

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Virginia Tech

The dilemma of making education an equitable system, especially for minoritized groups, has persisted for centuries. While there have been efforts aimed at decreasing disparities, there is still more work that needs to be done. An often-overlooked population in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is Black men—a group at the nexus of being a gender majority and racial minority. Thus, the purpose of this exploratory research study is to understand how Black men experience interpersonal relationships in undergraduate engineering programs. The overarching research question that guides this study is: What are the qualitatively different aspects of interpersonal relationships experienced by Black men in undergraduate engineering programs? Using Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory as a lens and a quasi-phenomenography methodology to understand the variance of the students' relationships, I conducted 14 semi-structured interviews with students who identified as a Black man and were a second-year or higher in their undergraduate engineering program. By examining interpersonal relationships, I clarify the meaningfulness of relationships at one historically Black college and university (N=1) and two historically white institutions (N=13). A total of seven relationship types and ten different ways students described their relationships were identified in the data. Each of the ways students described their relationship was organized on the emergent domains of academic, emotional/mental, financial, professional, social, and spiritual. Students also mentioned five environmental influences that impacted their experiences in engineering. My results indicate that students find value in relationships with people who were relatable, people who could provide insight or knowledge, and people who showed a sense of care or concern for the student. Students also mentioned how environmental influences bear significance on their over experience in engineering. The present study lays the groundwork for holistically examining the interpersonal relationships of Black men in undergraduate engineering programs.

African American men, Black men, Engineering education, phenomenography, HBCU, PWI, STEM, relationship