Strategic Pathways for Success: The Influence of Outside Community on Academic Engagement

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Engineering students participate in a variety of communities outside of their academic endeavors ranging from family to professional societies. While the degree to which they participate and immediate benefits of participation have been explored, pathways by which participation in non-academic “outside” communities leads to academic engagement are not as well understood.

This study seeks to identify outside communities to which students feel most connected and pathways by which these important communities influence students’ academic endeavors.

This study uses mixed methods, combining surveys and focus groups. A survey emphasizing measurement of belonging, engagement, and connection to community was collected from over 750 student participants at four different institutions. Focus groups were then used to explore how students’ most important communities influence their academic life. Focus group data analysis revealed which needs were met for students through participation in outside communities. RESULTS Across all institutions, family is the community to which students feel most connected, with friends being a distant second. Students spoke of communities strategically, identifying needs that they meet through participation in communities and linking their participation with increased ability to engage in their academic endeavors. Most frequently, students’ belonging needs were met through participation in outside communities, although safety and esteem needs were also affected.

Our results strongly suggest that, among the many types of needs studied, providing students with opportunities to belong will provide the most return on investment for engagement in academic endeavors.


Integrated Engineering

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Journal of Engineering Education