Thesis

Graduate degree aspirations of Latino undergraduate engineering students at a research institution

The field of engineering lacks considerable diversity, in particular at the academic level and even greater strain at the graduate level. Latinos are the largest growing underrepresented minority group (URMs) in the United States, yet they represent a minimal percentage of those earning graduate degrees within engineering. It is documented well, Latino students tend to lack institutional (secondary school, high school counselors) support and familial (lack of experience on parent’s behalf with educational systems) support to enroll in a four-year institution and even less in an engineering program (Camacho & Lord, 2011; Chapa & De La Rosa, 2006; Desmond & Lopez Turley, 2009). Once within an engineering program, expectations and support offered greatly affect a students’ aspiration to obtain a graduate degree. Being a Latino decreases the students’ likelihood of understanding and knowing strategies that will successfully lead them to admittance in a graduate program.
 Various entities play an important role in the encouragement and development of a Latino student’s aspirations to obtain a graduate degree. Familial values and members provide students with knowledge, support and guidance (students’ initial social and cultural capital) that can affect the student’s future educational aspirations. Once enrolled at four-year institutions, these social and cultural capitals expand to include university entities. Institutional entities can greatly affect student development of identity, integration into campus culture, and awareness of self. Institutional agents, such as faculty, staff and administration, peers/student organizations, and undergraduate research programs may assist, expose and encourage Latinos to aspire to obtain a graduate degree. 
 The purpose of this study was to identify 1) factors at a public research institution affect the choices of engineering students’ to aspire to continue their education in a graduate program and 2) the roles of ethnicity and generation in the choice of engineering students’ to aspire to continue their education in graduate programs.
 A mixed-method study consisting of two parts was conducted. The first method is an anonymous mixed-methods online survey (consisting of both quantitative and qualitative portions) was distributed to undergraduate students currently enrolled as engineering students at Central Research University (pseudonym of a university). Data was filtered by generational and ethnic characteristics (Latino and non-Latino) using descriptive statistics. The second method is a semi-structured face-to-face interview. A systematic approach was used to identify key words and phrases identifying themes described in literature. 
 The findings in this study were mostly consistent with prior research discussed in the literature review. Latino graduate aspirations were affected more so by institutional agents than by familial interactions. In addition, Latinos reported higher levels of aspirations for graduate degrees than non-Latino students did. Furthermore, faculty interaction and encouragement was the highest rated non-peer institutional agent among both Latino and non-Latinos. Although institutional agents have a high impact on student aspirations, future studies should explore how family, generational variables and cultural values influence student aspirations to attend graduate school, including support and motivation.

Thesis (M.A., Education (Higher Education Leadership))--California State University, Sacramento, 2015.

The field of engineering lacks considerable diversity, in particular at the academic level and even greater strain at the graduate level. Latinos are the largest growing underrepresented minority group (URMs) in the United States, yet they represent a minimal percentage of those earning graduate degrees within engineering. It is documented well, Latino students tend to lack institutional (secondary school, high school counselors) support and familial (lack of experience on parent’s behalf with educational systems) support to enroll in a four-year institution and even less in an engineering program (Camacho & Lord, 2011; Chapa & De La Rosa, 2006; Desmond & Lopez Turley, 2009). Once within an engineering program, expectations and support offered greatly affect a students’ aspiration to obtain a graduate degree. Being a Latino decreases the students’ likelihood of understanding and knowing strategies that will successfully lead them to admittance in a graduate program. Various entities play an important role in the encouragement and development of a Latino student’s aspirations to obtain a graduate degree. Familial values and members provide students with knowledge, support and guidance (students’ initial social and cultural capital) that can affect the student’s future educational aspirations. Once enrolled at four-year institutions, these social and cultural capitals expand to include university entities. Institutional entities can greatly affect student development of identity, integration into campus culture, and awareness of self. Institutional agents, such as faculty, staff and administration, peers/student organizations, and undergraduate research programs may assist, expose and encourage Latinos to aspire to obtain a graduate degree. The purpose of this study was to identify 1) factors at a public research institution affect the choices of engineering students’ to aspire to continue their education in a graduate program and 2) the roles of ethnicity and generation in the choice of engineering students’ to aspire to continue their education in graduate programs. A mixed-method study consisting of two parts was conducted. The first method is an anonymous mixed-methods online survey (consisting of both quantitative and qualitative portions) was distributed to undergraduate students currently enrolled as engineering students at Central Research University (pseudonym of a university). Data was filtered by generational and ethnic characteristics (Latino and non-Latino) using descriptive statistics. The second method is a semi-structured face-to-face interview. A systematic approach was used to identify key words and phrases identifying themes described in literature. The findings in this study were mostly consistent with prior research discussed in the literature review. Latino graduate aspirations were affected more so by institutional agents than by familial interactions. In addition, Latinos reported higher levels of aspirations for graduate degrees than non-Latino students did. Furthermore, faculty interaction and encouragement was the highest rated non-peer institutional agent among both Latino and non-Latinos. Although institutional agents have a high impact on student aspirations, future studies should explore how family, generational variables and cultural values influence student aspirations to attend graduate school, including support and motivation.

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