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University of Texas at Austin mechanical engineering associate professors Maura Borrego and Carolyn Seepersad have received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Engineering Education and Centers to study the links between engineering identity and retention in engineering.  

This project supports persistence in engineering by understanding how identity develops in high school, undergraduate and graduate students, and how it may develop differently for underrepresented students.  

“Identity” refers to how people see themselves, or the “kind of person” that they identify with. Logically speaking, if individuals strongly identify themselves with a particular field, they are more likely to pursue and remain in that field. Yet there is limited research testing this idea, particularly in engineering. 

Starting this autumn, Borrego and Seepersad will be surveying UT Austin undergraduate students from the departments of mechanical engineering, civil and architectural engineering, and biomedical engineering in their classes and linking their survey responses to academic records for statistical analysis.  

Altogether, study sites will include 100 high schools enrolling approximately 5,000 students per year in engineering courses and engineering departments of mechanical, civil and biomedical engineering at four other institutions enrolling a total of 5,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate engineering students.  

“This study — directly linking engineering and persistence — places UT Austin at the cutting edge of engineering undergraduate retention research,” said Borrego. “We're thrilled to be using our research to empower even more University of Texas students to complete their engineering degrees.” 

Meagan Kendall, UT El Paso assistant professor and UT Austin mechanical engineering alumnus will be among study collaborators.

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