It took two and a half years of college for me to start to feel like I belong in the engineering world. I came into college as an open option engineering major. I did well in my courses and made the dean’s list my first semester. However, this did little to give me any sense of belonging in the engineering program. Open option engineering doesn’t have a sense of community and I lived in a dorm with very few engineering majors. After my freshman year, I applied to the civil engineering department where I again found myself with a weak sense of belonging. The summer following my sophomore year, an uninspired internship taught me that I had no interest in what I had considered to be my dream job. This led me to the point of transferring out of the civil engineering department all together.
Yet, as a senior I am once again studying civil engineering and I have a very strong sense of belonging. I attribute this to two things: joining engineering clubs and moving to a smaller engineering department.
Becoming an Engineer (Stevens et al, 2008), describes two contrasting college students (Simon and Jill) pursuing engineering. Both initially struggled with their GPA. Both students questioned whether they could actually be engineers. In the end, only one of these students followed through with their engineering aspirations. The difference between these students’ ability to succeed in engineering was their sense of inclusion. Simon eventually made his way into the engineering program of his choice while Jill switched a major in business.
Simon was able to succeed because he became involved in testing and research which provided him with a sense of belonging. Simon also had a faculty advocate who could provide support and accurate advice. Contrasting this, Jill’s job did not relate to her major and she relied on her friends for advice. These two students’ college experiences coincide well with the two chapters of my undergraduate education. I began college without any sense of belonging and I did not feel that I had anyone whom I could got to for advice. This drove me out of my major. Eventually, I found a sense of inclusion through a small department where I felt a sense of belonging and through joining the CU Seismic Design Team. My grades have been consistently high, yet, my GPA did nothing to make me feel that I belonged in my major.
It is possible then, that excellent courses and well-planned curriculum cannot impact student success as well as a club, a conversation, and an advocate can. I did not find my place in my college until I joined the seismic design team. I felt insignificant in my college until I moved to a department where my adviser and professors recognized me. I am sure that many students giving up on engineering were unable to find these two things. Moving forward, my goal is to foster this sense of inclusion in my students; although, this may not take the same form as my journey to belonging.