Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Civil Engineering

Committee Chair/Advisor

Martin, Julie P

Committee Member

Klotz , Leidy E

Committee Member

Ogle , Jennifer H

Committee Member

Schiff , Scott D

Committee Member

Speziale , Barbara J


This work develops a constructivist grounded theory describing the influence of family and those that serve a role similar to family on the academic decision making of undergraduate first generation in college (FGC) students majoring in engineering. FGC students, in this study, are students with neither parent having attained a bachelor's degree.
FGC students are an untapped talent pool with the potential to diversify and increase the number of engineers, which are both urgent national priorities. Much is known about FGC students with respect to their academic preparation, transition to postsecondary education, and progress toward degree attainment. However, the literature provides little insight about the college experiences of FGC majoring in engineering, their academic decision-making during college, or the influence of families on the same. The analysis of existing data from exploratory studies of 22 FGC students showed that this may be vital missing knowledge as family appeared to be a significant influence on FGC students' academic decision-making.
To address this missing knowledge, the constructivist grounded theory methodology was applied to develop a theory of the family (termed &ldquo'kin'&rdquo) and those that serve a role similar to family (termed &ldquo'fictive kin'&rdquo) and their influence on the academic decision-making of undergraduate FGC students in engineering. The critical incident technique (CIT) was adopted and used to create a specific, semi-structured, interview guide to elicit the kind of rich, thick data needed to develop a theory grounded in the data. Twenty interviews were conducted and coded using a constant comparative method to analyze the data.
Though the purpose of the research was to probe for kin and fictive kin influences, the major influence within the data was from parents, in particular from mothers. The theory that emerged from this research is as follows:
In explaining how they are shaped and/or molded by kin and fictive kin, participants primarily describe parents who urge them to seek happiness regardless of career choice. Based on their life and work experiences, parents convey advice to participants and influence their approach to doing things including how they make decisions. In areas where &ldquo'college knowledge'&rdquo is required, parents pose questions to participants and then offer advice based upon the responses. In such exchanges it seems kin, mostly parents, reflect back to participants what is important. Participants see themselves as ultimately responsible for making academic decisions, however. Though parents offer little, if any, specific academic information, they are providing significant emotional support and are reminding participants of specific expectations. Whereas an engineer parent may provide specific influences related to selecting courses, how to study, and explaining the career choices in each engineering discipline, parents of FGC students are influencing their children by telling them to be happy, have a good career, and make them proud.
This theory has implications for key stakeholders, including researchers and practitioners. By translating this innovative research into practical guidance and by initiating calls for reform targeting persons and entities influencing the academic decision-making of first generation college students majoring in engineering, this study and the resulting grounded theory can be used to create novel concepts for educating the engineers of the 21st century. While the implications discuss many influential entities and programs, priority can be considered for high school and college teachers and institutional outreach, recruitment, and retention and higher education efforts. In addition, this theory uncovers the need for future research to include investigating the influence of FGC students majoring in engineering on kin, especially siblings and parents, and fictive kin.

Included in

Engineering Commons



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