Peer Reviewed Journal Publications
Exploring Student Disability and Professional Identity: Navigating Sociocultural Expectations in U.S. Undergraduate Civil Engineering Programs
Australasian Journal of Engineering Education
Abstract: National agencies throughout Australia and the United States (U.S.) have called for broadened participation in engineering, including participation by individuals with disabilities. However, studies demonstrate that students with disabilities are not effectively supported by university systems and cultures. This lack of support can shape how students form professional identities as they move through school and into careers. To better understand these experiences and create a more inclusive environment in engineering, we conducted a constructivist grounded theory exploration of professional identity formation in students who identify as having a disability as they study civil engineering and experience their first year of work. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 24 undergraduate civil engineering students across the U.S. and analysed them using grounded theory techniques. Navigating sociocultural expectations of disability emerged as one key theme, consisting of three strategy types: (1) neutrally satisfying expectations, (2) challenging expectations, and (3) aligning with expectations. Regardless of strategy, all participants navigated sociocultural expectations related to their studies and their disabilities. This theme highlights the ways sociocultural influences impact students’ navigation through their undergraduate civil engineering careers. These findings can be used to examine cultural barriers faced by students with disabilities to enhance their inclusion in engineering.
Peer Reviewed Conference Publications
Experiencing Disability: A Preliminary Analysis of Professional Identity Development in US Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students
Hamilton, NZ, December 2018
Abstract: To move beyond tolerance and actively embrace students with diverse perspectives in engineering higher education, the purpose of this study is to understand the ways in which undergraduate students who experience disability form professional identities as civil engineers. In this paper, we discuss our findings from the initial phases of our Grounded Theory analysis, which revealed two themes warranting further exploration: 1) varying levels of disability identity saliency in relation to the development of a professional identity; and 2) conflicting colloquial and individual conceptualizations of disability. Overall, it has been observed that students’ experiences with and perceptions of these themes tend to vary based on characteristics of an experienced disability.
Exploring Professional Identity Development in Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students Who Experience Disabilities
Salt Lake City, UT, June 2018
Abstract: In this paper, we introduce a recently-initiated longitudinal, grounded theory exploration of the experiences of civil engineering students with disabilities as they move through their undergraduate careers and into the workforce. To provide context and establish the need for this type of work in engineering education, we discuss prior research that highlights the current state of disability studies, particularly within the engineering education and higher education literature. We then identify the sensitizing concepts underpinning this study and outline our research methods, including data collection and analysis plans. As this project is currently in the initial phase, we conclude with a discussion of challenges encountered, strategies for overcoming those challenges, and next steps.
Experiencing Disability in Undergraduate Civil Engineering Education: An Initial Examination of the Intersection of Disability and Professional Identities
Crystal City, VA, April 2018
Abstract: While recent calls throughout the engineering education community have focused on increasing diversity and broadening participation in STEM, these conversations typically center on race and gender with little to no work addressing disability. But research in higher education broadly suggests that cognitive, physical, and learning disabilities can markedly impact the ways in which students perceive and experience school, develop professional identities, and move into the engineering workforce. To address this gap, we build on emerging conversations that explore the ways in which students experience disability within the context of engineering education. In particular, we conducted an initial grounded theory analysis of interviews examining professional identity formation in undergraduate civil engineering students who experience disabilities. From our analysis, we observed three themes that begin to highlight ways in which the experience of students with disabilities may contribute to their development as emerging civil engineers.
Peer Reviewed Journal Publications
Experiencing Undergraduate Civil Engineering Education: The Professional Identity Formation of Two Autistic Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students
Blacksburg, VA, April 2019
Abstract: Engineering is often conceptualized as a “hard”, or high-consensus, discipline in which mathematical and scientific theorems are used to analyze and construct rule-based systems to understand and explain the world. Due to this objective and systematic nature of the field, prior research has suggested that individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are more likely to enter into and succeed within STEM fields, such as engineering, than individuals without ASD. While the content and general tenets of the engineering field can align with the talents, strengths, and values of individuals with ASD, these students must also navigate the socio-cultural and socio-political structures of the engineering discipline and the university. In turn, these experiences can shape the ways in which students form professional identities and become engineers. In this presentation, we reflect on interview data from a larger study we are performing about disability identity in civil engineering. We discuss the experiences of David and Sarah, two civil engineering students who identify as autistic, as they navigate a variety of social and academic contexts during their undergraduate careers. In particular, we describe significant events, advantages, and disadvantages that have shaped these students’ identifications with civil engineering. In contrast to broad, quantitatively-based generalizations, this presentation is meant to share student experiences with the community to provide nuanced insight into the ways these students navigate, identify, and negotiate with a particular engineering discipline. Because our work is guided by a core commitment to the principle of Nothing About Us Without Us, our primary goal is in this presentation is to to engage in dialogue with autistic individuals, though we also welcome a broader audience of those interested in these issues.