Engaging Communal Goals
The students described, too, how they pursued a degree in engineering as a function of their goals for society. Emma described how she was “really passionate about the environment.” She was enrolled in a course that engaged with local community partners to identify solutions for a problem. Cindy expressed her desire to design prosthetics “cheaper and source out to different countries who can’t afford [them].”
Beyond improving their community, these participants demonstrated a desire to inspire others coming behind them, which engages their social capital to continue the tradition of “lifting as we climb" (Yosso, 2005, p. 80). Cindy said, “I see becoming an engineer, a professional, someday becoming somebody respectable that is inspiration [sic] to them to keep fighting for something that they are not being taught to fight for.” Cindy’s comments reflect the reputational value of being an engineer and emphasize her belief that she would be more capable of enacting change with an engineering degree. This highlights her resistant capital as fuel for her engineering aspirations.
Overall, these statements reflect the FGLS’ communal goals to care for and work with others (Diekman et ah, 2015). Indeed, research supports the engagement of communal goals within the classroom and support services as a persistence strategy' for women specifically (Blackburn, 2017). Students who have been involved with their communities and families report a greater sense of belonging in the college community, as they align their aspirations to their goals (Diekman et al., 2015). This alignment further supports what Benard (2004) described as a sense of purpose, which is a characteristic of resiliency. Research describes how Latinas mitigate the STEM climate through the activation of resiliency, as resilience predicts successful academic achievement (Morgan Consoli, Delucio, Noreinga, & Llamas, 2015).
Activating Aspirations in the Engineering Climate
In addition to clearly articulating their goals, the FGLS described an increased, heightened consciousness of their gender, race, and generational status. Mona described her experience as a Latina in engineering in the following way: “I don’t think of race as a factor in anything. I’m just a person, and it is what it is. ... I don’t ever really think of myself as an outsider because someone else was a different race than me.” In this statement, Mona shared how she was not cognizant of her race playing a role in her experience. However, she subsequently commented, “But I did notice that some people tend to stick within the same race groups.” This seeming contradiction carried through in her continued discussion. For example, she described a club she had recently joined that visits nearby towns and holds panels for first-generation high school students. Mona described her excitement, saying “When they told me that we were speaking to a lot of first-generation families . . . that’s when it hit me, and 1 was like, Oh! I’m a minority person going to . . . I’m pursuing a degree that’s dominated by men.”
Through this comment, Mona displayed her intersectional identities as a first-generation Latina engineering student, operating as a woman in a male- dominated field with expertise she could share with other first-generation Latinas. Mona’s next comments illustrate that she had realized her power:
I was like, “Wow! Oh.” And that also ties into the whole sense of community because they wanted minorities to speak to minorities. Not like, a person whose families have had generations of college degrees going to speak to someone who’s never even. . . . They never had the opportunity to go to college.
Mona is describing various forms of capital here, citing her navigational capital that enabled her to serve as a role model, her resistant capital that she could use to help lift up Latinas in the pipeline behind her, and her social capital, reflected by joining clubs and engaging with her peers. Angie described a similar realization about her resistant capital: “You take a step back sometimes and you look at it and it’s like, ‘Oh wait, yeah. A Latino woman did this and that’s pretty cool’and ‘That’s me’and ‘Maybe I’m a role model for someone else that’s also trying’.” Angie described the sense of pride she experienced as a Latina role model.
Cindy provided a stark description of her racialized experiences at SU. She said her race
comes into play when I want to ask for help from other people. Because, obviously, they’ll have their groups, so they don’t really know what to do when I want to join them. It shouldn’t be that way, but I’ve seen that.
When probed to describe her experience further, she explained how she encountered a microaggression during an icebreaker activity in her residence hall:
So then, when we were doing the icebreaker, most of them went one way, and they just left me and these two other ethnic people. So, that was really awkward, but I tried to not let that get to me, because I have my goals that 1 want to get to. And, even if nobody wants to be with me, I’m going to get there some way.
Cindy’s descriptions reinforce research that describes the microaggressions that Latinx students experience within the STEM climate (Rendon, Nora, Bledsoe, & Kanagala, 2019). Cindy stated, “I just feel like it’s a big opportunity, because being part of a minority, so then if I keep pushing myself, and I’m doing great. You know people usually don’t expect much of minorities.” Cindy specifically cited a deficit-based view: People do not hold high expectations for minorities. However, Cindy described her resistant capital as she overcame microaggressions and remained steadfast in her engineering aspirations.
The participants provided the following descriptions of their experiences as women in the engineering program. Angie wished the engineering program included more women: “You just need more . . . women in the program. And that would just be welcoming by looking around you and seeing more people that.” She additionally described how in her introductory engineering course of 40 students, she was one of only four women. She professed, “I don’t see any of them, because they’re like in the corners . . . it’s just a bunch of like guy heads in front of me.” In her comments she expounded upon the loneliness and isolation of being a woman in engineering.
Jessica’s viewpoints were consistent with Angie’s. She described her own introductory engineering course: “It was kind of weird at first being in a group with just all guys. ... It was kind of intimidating because I didn’t want to seem dumb or whatever.” This experience directly reflects a gendered fear of confirmation of a stereotype about women. This evidence points to the literature that describes the isolation, fear, and loneliness women can experience in engineering (Samuelson & Litzler, 2016). Jenna declared, “Well,
I feel a little tired. There are four in my group and I’m the only girl . . . sometimes they just all ignore me.”
Alternatively, Emma found motivation from negative interactions with her male peers. She said, “I think like what makes me feel better is like if I’m doing well compared to the class . . . it’s like ‘oh, I’m just as good as [the men in class]’.” Camila concurred with Emma: “Like she said, we’re equally. . . . Basically, we can be as smart as them. We can apply ourselves as much as they do.” Both Emma and Camila drew upon their resistant capital to combat stereotypes and remain focused on their academic goals (Yosso, 2005).
The participants described their experiences as first-generation students consistently. Carson said, “I think that the biggest difference is if you’re not first-generation, you have people in your life that have gone to college and who completed college so it’s not a big deal if you go.” Angie shared how she has been “figuring stuff out by” herself. Mona’s, Carson’s, and Angie’s comments reflect how they reinforced their navigational capital in college. Navigational capital emerges when individuals maneuver systems not created for them (Yosso, 2005), which these students have done throughout their educational experience. As described previously, deficit-based models emphasize what first- generation students lack, but these participants reflected a counterpoint as they expressed confidence about maneuvering higher education. This finding is consistent with research describing how the retention of high aspirations within difficult contexts fosters resilience to succeed (Perez Huber & Cueva, 2012; Romasanta, 2016).