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Re-thinking Engineering Doctoral Students’ Sense of Belonging: In Consideration of Diversity in Citizenship and Interpersonal Interactions

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A defining feature of many United States (U.S.) doctoral engineering programs is their large proportion of international students. Despite the large student body and the significant impacts that they bring

A defining feature of many United States (U.S.) doctoral engineering programs is their large proportion of international students. Despite the large student body and the significant impacts that they bring to the U.S. education and economy, a scarcity of research on engineering doctoral students has taken into consideration the existence of international students and the consequential diversity in citizenship among all students. This study was designed to bridge the research gap to improve the understanding of sense of belonging from the perspective of international engineering doctoral students.

A multi-phase mixed methods research approach was taken for this study. The qualitative strand focused on international engineering doctoral students’ sense of belonging and its constructs. Semi-structured interview data were collected from eight international students enrolled at engineering doctoral programs at four different institutions. Thematic analysis and further literature review produced a conceptual structure of sense of belonging among international engineering doctoral students: authentic-self, problem behavior, academic self-efficacy, academic belonging, sociocultural belonging, and perceived institutional support.

The quantitative strand of this study broadened the study’s population to all engineering doctoral students, including domestic students, and conducted comparative analyses between international and domestic student groups. An instrument to measure the Engineering Doctoral Students’ Quality of Interaction (EDQI instrument) was developed while considering the multicultural nature of interactions and the discipline-specific characteristics of engineering doctoral programs. Survey data were collected from 653 engineering doctoral students (383 domestic and 270 international) at 36 R1 institutions across the U.S. Exploratory Factor Analysis results confirmed the construct validity and reliability of the data collected from the instrument and indicated the factor structures for the students’ perceived quality interactions among domestic and international student groups. A set of separate regression analyses results indicated the significance of having meaningful interactions to students’ sense of belonging and identified the groups of people who make significant impacts on students’ sense of belonging for each subgroup. The emergent findings provide an understanding of the similarities and differences in the contributors of sense of belonging between international and domestic students, which can be used to develop tailored support structures for specific student groups.

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  • 2020