The Experiences of Black and Hispanic Graduating Engineers: How Racial Salience, Immigration Status, and Relationships Matter

West, Moriah, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Roksa, Josipa

Much scholarship has been dedicated to understanding underrepresented minority (URM) students' experiences and outcomes within higher education, and especially within Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Black and Hispanic students are generally considered URM students. However, extant literature focuses almost exclusively on the experiences of students pursuing STEM degrees during college and rarely considers their experiences as they are on the cusp of transitioning into the labor market. Moreover, the literature often describes experiences of Black and Hispanic students as monolithic, rarely attending to how intersection with other identities shapes their experiences. Relying on 47 semi-structured interviews with Black and/or Hispanic engineers, this dissertation includes three stand-alone empirical chapters, which explore various questions related to unpacking the experiences of URM students in STEM. Specifically, chapters 2 and 3 consider how different types of intersectionality complicate current narratives of URM students’ experiences within engineering, while chapter 3 considers the job search experiences of URM engineers transitioning into the labor market, contributing to our limited knowledge of the processes involved in securing employment. Chapter 2 addresses the role of racial salience and gender in shaping Black and Hispanic students' experiences. Findings indicate that students exhibit varying degrees of racial salience, and that women tend to consider their race more salient than men, as well as their gender. Chapter 3 addresses the intersection between URM status and immigration status. The results indicate mostly similarities in non-immigrant and immigrant students’ sense of belonging in engineering, and important differences regarding their reasons for choosing to major in engineering. Both immigrant and non-immigrant Black and Hispanic students faced challenges regarding their sense of belonging, which primarily stemmed from their racial/ethnic underrepresentation in engineering spaces. In addition, immigrant students experienced unique challenges, such as a lack of feeling included culturally. Furthermore, non-immigrant and immigrant students had unique reasons for pursuing engineering. For non-immigrant students, their pursuit of engineering was shaped by individualistic passions, while for immigrant students, their pursuit of engineering was shaped by familial expectations and obligations. Chapter 4 addresses the role of social capital, or connections and relationships with others, in shaping students' job search process, and whether and how that might vary across different institutions. The results indicate that students leveraged job-relevant social capital in multifaceted ways, including via their personal relationships, social capital that was embedded in career services and identity- based organizations. Moreover, they leveraged online resources more broadly, and specifically the social capital that was generated from platforms, such as LinkedIn. In addition, the results revealed that there were no meaningful differences in social capital usage across institutions. Altogether, these findings underscore the importance for understanding how URM status intersects with other identities to shape students' experiences in dynamic ways, and understanding students' experiences and relationships with others not only during college, but as they transition into the labor market and search for jobs, as well.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Race and Ethnicity , Social Capital, Job Search Process, Engineering
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: