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Method and Data Analysis

To achieve this study’s aim of exploring how FGLS describe their goals and aspirations within the engineering climate, the participating FGLS shared their testimonies, or counterstories, in an action research, qualitative study. A testimonio is “a verbal journey of a witness who speaks to reveal the racial, classed, [and| gendered . . . injustices they have suffered as a means of healing, empowerment and advocacy” (Perez Huber, 2009, p. 644). Testimonies are revealed through counterstories, which are used to capture the experiences of minoritized groups as legitimate data (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002). The data here were extrapolated from a larger action research study that captured validating advising interactions between academic advisors and their advisees (Buss, 2018).

The study was conducted at SU within the COE during the FGLS’ first semester. Three purposively selected advisors participated. Ten FGLS were identified for participation through a stratified sampling procedure. All first- year students at SU are assigned an academic advisor; FGLS in the first semester of their engineering studies, assigned to the three participating advisors, were invited to participate. Two advisors worked with three student participants each, while one advisor worked with four students. Each advisor engaged in two individual meetings with each of her assigned students following a scripted set of narrative interview prompts designed to elicit the FGLS’ forms of CCW. Narrative interviews are useful in eliciting meaning and knowledge through stories shared between the researcher and subject (Brinkmann & Kvale, 2015). Interview data were collected and analyzed. Additionally, advisors completed a template form (created by the researcher), noting each time FGLS discussed a form of CCW. Finally, the students participated in a focus group designed to gather their insights as part of the analysis process, which is further described in the subsequent section. The focus group was recorded and transcribed, and the resulting data were analyzed.

The data in this study were analyzed with two approaches—a coding process (Saldana, 2016) and a three-phase collaborative analysis process (Perez Huber, 2009), one process embedded within the other. The data corpus was first coded inductively, using initial coding, which is often considered a starting point for identifying patterns (Saldana, 2016). The second component of the analysis incorporated use of the collaborative analysis model, which originated from Perez Huber (2009), who utilized testimonies as a methodology to capture student stories. This approach incorporated student voices into both the data collected and the analysis of the data. During the focus group, students were provided with purposively selected statements from their fellow students, gathered during the students’ individual meetings

Table 7. J Students' Educational Majors.

Student Name (Pseudonyms)

Engineering Major


Environmental Engineering


Environmental Engineering


Environmental Engineering


Civil Engineering


Computer Science Engineering


Computer Science Engineering


Computer Engineering


Biomedical Engineering


Biomedical Engineering


Biomedical Engineering

with their advisors. These statements were identified from the inductive round of coding and referenced the FGLS’ gendered, racial, and generational status experiences. The focus group participants reflected upon those statements; their reflections helped to shape the analysis and understanding of the statements. In other words, participants were engaged in the analysis of their own data. Their interpretations were captured in the broad data corpus and included in the overall analysis. From there, a round of thematic coding was conducted to identify the FGLS’ forms of capital (Saldana, 2016). Therefore, the students shared and shaped their stories to inform as a form of counterstorytelling.

Key Findings

In the following section, I discuss the study’s findings in the sequence of (1) familial aspirations, (2) communal goals, and (3) activation of aspirations in response to the climate. The findings are followed by recommendations on ways that universities can develop policies, norms, and practices to further support the educational aspirations of FGLS in engineering based on those findings.

Engaging Familial Aspirations

As discussed, deficit viewpoints undermine reform efforts for minoritized students and disregard their wealth of capital (Rendon, 1994, 2002; Yosso, 2005). These FGLS students had arrived at college with optimism about their success and clearly articulated aspirations. They expressed their long-standing, deeply ingrained intentions to attend and succeed in college. Mona described how her family “drilled” into her the expectation that she would complete a degree. She described her sister reading to her when she was a child and noted that her sister “is the reason I am going to college." Camila described how her father, a construction worker, would take her to work with him, which led to her interest in civil engineering. Angie’s father directed her to “focus on school and homework” while not permitting her to hold an outside job during high school. These statements reflect their aspirational capital and hope that they would eventually attend college (Yosso, 2005). The students’ statements are consistent with the findings of Chang et al. (2014) on how familial support can act as a mediator within the racial climate of STEM.

Multiple participants described the family support they received that promoted their attendance and motivated them to complete college. Emily revealed that her mother worked at a fast-food restaurant and told her “you have to better yourself, go to college.” Marissa felt inspired by her grandmother, who had had to drop out of school and directed Marissa to complete her education. In addition to meeting familial pressures to accomplish a goal that her grandmother never had the opportunity to achieve, Marissa felt compelled to provide for her father. Thus, Marissa wanted to succeed to help provide for her family. She explained, “My dad didn’t have a college degree ... so right now he’s working at a job where . . . they don’t have a retirement plan for him or anything . . . lie’s just working until he can’t anymore.” The families of these FGLS helped them, directly or indirectly, to recognize the economic advantage of pursuing a degree.

These statements reflect the family’s role in fostering and supporting the student’s aspirational capital through their own aspirations for the student’s success. Yosso (2005) described how the shared stories within a family “nurture a culture of possibility” for students to move beyond their parents’ economic and vocational outcomes (p. 78). Indeed, “parental encouragement for their children’s educational aspirations is one of the most important factors impacting those decisions to pursue higher education” (Mitchall & Jaeger, 2018, p. 583). Thus, while their parents did not attend college, the students internalized their parents’ aspirations for their children to earn a degree, which fostered the students’ aspirations (Mitchall & Jaeger, 2018). Cardoso and Thompson (2010) described how parents and their students “often make decisions that promote the social and economic stability of the entire family” (p. 260). In their research, they noted that family relationships emerge as a form of protective factors, which foster resiliency among minor- itized students (Cardoso & Thompson, 2010).

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