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Black engineering students’ motivation for PhD attainment: passion plus purpose

Ebony O. McGee (Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Devin T. White (Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Akailah T. Jenkins (Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Stacey Houston (Department of Sociology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
Lydia C. Bentley (Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
William J. Smith (Department of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)
William H. Robinson (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA)

Journal for Multicultural Education

ISSN: 2053-535X

Article publication date: 13 June 2016

1019

Abstract

Purpose

Much of the extant research, practice and policy in engineering education has focused on the limited persistence, waning interest and lack of preparation among Black students to continue beyond the post-secondary engineering pipeline. However, this research suggests that many Black PhD students persist and succeed in engineering, fueled by various motivational strengths. To better understand the motivations of Black students in engineering doctoral programs, this study aims to explore the factors that influence their decision to enroll in either an engineering or a computing doctoral program.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper uses an intrinsic and extrinsic motivational framework to investigate the inspiration of 44 Black engineering doctoral students in PhD engineering programs in 11 engineering schools across the country.

Findings

Results show that the participants’ motivation to pursue a PhD in engineering comes from several distinct factors, including the following: an unyielding passion for their particular discipline, a sense of responsibility to serve marginalized peoples and society, a path toward autonomy, pre-PhD mentorship and research opportunities and family and prior work experience.

Research limitations/implications

Based on this study’s findings, a reconceptualization of graduate engineering education that incorporates the importance of “being Black” and its relationships with motivating and, potentially, retaining Black science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students is also offered.

Originality/value

This paper seeks to expose particular constructs and behaviors surrounding Black students’ motivation to learn and achieve in engineering at the highest academic levels, offering a more nuanced perspective than currently is found in traditional engineering education literature.

Keywords

Citation

McGee, E.O., White, D.T., Jenkins, A.T., Houston, S., Bentley, L.C., Smith, W.J. and Robinson, W.H. (2016), "Black engineering students’ motivation for PhD attainment: passion plus purpose", Journal for Multicultural Education, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 167-193. https://doi.org/10.1108/JME-01-2016-0007

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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