Lecture Explores Latinx Representation in Engineering

“It’s important to understand why Latinos are underrepresented” Dr. Lisa Flores said in her psychology lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018 at Goodpaster Hall. The lecture, which was titled “Latinx Students’ Persistence, Intentions, and Academic Satisfaction in Engineering,” explored variables such as outcome expectations and self-efficacy as they relate to Latinx performance levels and perseverance in the field of engineering. Florence earned her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1999 and continues to teach there as a professor. She has spent the last several years utilizing grants to explore the topic of Latinx representation in the field of engineering.

The first study began after Flores earned a three year grant from National Science Foundation (NSF), a process she calls “incredibly difficult” for Counselor Psychologists. This first study looked at Latinx students at a primarily Hispanic serving institution in the Southwest. In her lecture, Florence explained that it is important to conduct research at such schools because “over 60% of Latinos who attend college go to primarily Hispanic schools.” The study used the psychological Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) to explore multiple variables and their effects on the “development of self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, interests, goals, satisfaction, and persistence intentions in engineering” according to Flores. The results of this first study showed a significant correlation between the SCCT variables and the development of the aforementioned traits. Flores further explains that “findings from our first project suggested that there were no differences when we compared Latinx and White students or between men and women.” However, the next study would expand on this and find that there is a difference in the importance of SCCT variables between intersectional groups.

This second study explored a broader pool and incorporated eleven different institutions, all of which ranked among the top twenty-five colleges in the nation in the population size of Latinx graduating with an engineering degree. It was funded by a second, five year grant from the NSF worth a total of $1.5 million. This study compared the performance of Latinx students in primarily white schools to those in primarily Hispanic schools and, according to Flores,shows a discrepancy between Latino/a success and persistence depending on whether they are the minority or majority at their college intentions based on intersectional groups.” An interesting result of this second study was that it reflected no difference in gender among Latinx students, which, as Flores explained, means “Among Latinx students institutional context mattered more than gender.“

According to the United States census, only 6% of engineers today are Latinx. Furthermore, according to Flores, this percentage has remained relatively stagnant in the last 20 years despite being the largest growing population in the United States. When asked how students and faculty can improve the situation, Flores responded, “We should be looking at the academic context from the perspective of students from different backgrounds to understand what they need most and where we can improve their educational experience.” The studies also reflect the importance of maintaining interest with students for all their years in higher education, as opposed to only early and late years.

Flores and her colleagues are currently in the final year of their five year grant, which will continue through the summer. They are exploring potential future topics and submitting a new grant for review. In the lecture, Flores mentioned potentially expanding the study to incorporate students in pre-college education. She wants to explore students with interest and promise in mathematics who never show an interest in pursuing engineering. The lecture was part of an annual series at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, with this years’ topic being the “Psychology of Work and Play.” The series will continue on Nov. 12, 2018 with Dr. Thalia Goldstein, assistant professor of Applied Development Psychology at George Mason University, presenting her lecture titled “The Role of Drama and Imagination in Building Children’s Social and Emotional Skills.”

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