Exploring Learning and Theorizing Engineering Identity: The Key to Sustaining STEM Participation for Black Men
Brian Burt

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Iowa State University

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
Why are Black men underrepresented in engineering fields? For those who make it to graduate school, what makes them stay? Embedded in these questions are several assumptions: that the choice to participate in STEM is that of Black men themselves; that there are not larger social structures that prevent Black men from participating in STEM; and, that there are not pervasive systems that make it easier for Black men to “choose” to leave STEM. My current research suggests that engineering students develop a perception of what it means to be an engineer and do the work of engineering (i.e., what I refer to as “engineering identity”) that shapes whether – and in what ways – Black men in graduate school come to view themselves as long-term participants in STEM.This theory-generating study seeks to better understand engineering identity and its role in long-term participation in STEM. Extending a current project funded by the National Science Foundation’s Iowa Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and drawing from its research design, this proposed study will include two rounds of one-on-one interviews with 20 Black men who are graduate students in engineering attending two Association of American Universities (AAU) institutions (10 students at each university). Interview questions will focus on identifying the critical contexts and relationships that shape Black men’s engineering identity. At the conclusion of this study, a new theory on engineering identity will be generated to expand existing understandings of the complexities of STEM participation for Black men. This new scholarship will be useful in developing policies and practices that improve graduate experiences and increase the likelihood of continued participation in engineering for Black men.
About Brian Burt
Dr. Brian A. Burt is Assistant Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education at Iowa State University. His program of research utilizes qualitative methodological approaches to study the experiences of graduate students, and the institutional policies and practices that influence students’ educational and workforce pathways. His current research projects fall in two strands: 1) understanding the science of team science, and 2) exploring the experiences of underrepresented graduate students of color in engineering. He is the PI of a project funded by the National Science Foundation’s Iowa Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). Through this project he seeks to understand the experiences of Black men in engineering graduate studies that promote or turn them away from engineering pathways. The implications of his research have the capacity to improve student-to-faculty (as well as student-to-student) interactions, and inform recommendations for the (re)design of supportive teaching and learning environments. Brian earned his Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Michigan, a M.A. in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies (with a concentration in Higher Education Administration) from the University of Maryland-College Park, and a B.S. in Secondary English Education from Indiana University-Bloomington.

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