Flipping the Script on Deficit Models of Student Success

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Understanding unequal participation in STEM fields, by race, gender, or other underrepresented groups, is often explained by a deficit model—this model views individuals from marginalized populations as lacking in some way and needing to be fixed. But just how useful is this model?

There is a growing body of research that flips the script and investigates the unique forms of social capital that individuals from excluded identity groups bring to STEM fields. Contributing to this work is CERSE director, Liz Litzler, who co-authored an article in the Journal of Engineering Education last year called “Community Cultural Wealth: An Assets-Based Approach to Persistence of Engineering Students of Color.” This article won an honorable mention for the 2016 William Elgin Wickenden Award of the American Society for Engineering Education.

The article describes the results of qualitative research from the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering, exploring the types of cultural capital used by African American and Latino students in engineering majors. Community cultural wealth for these populations was dynamic and took on various forms, all contributing to student persistence as members of non-dominant identity groups in engineering. The research provides a new lens for engineering educators to consider by focusing on what students of color bring with them to engineering rather than what they might be lacking; this moves organizations to consider how their own policies, practices, and structures may disadvantage some groups more than others.

Learn more about current research underway at the Center for Evaluation & Research for STEM Equity (CERSE) here.