Examining the relationship of ethnicity, gender and social cognitive factors with the academic achievement of first-year engineering students

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Educational Leadership


Department of Educational Leadership


Advisor: Charles J. Russo


The purpose of the study was to examine the relationships of social cognitive factors and their influence on the academic performance of first-year engineering students. The nine social cognitive variables identified were under the groupings of personal support, occupational self-efficacy, academic self-efficacy, vocational interests, coping, encouragement, discouragement, outcome expectations, and perceived stress. The primary student participants in this study were first-year engineering students from underrepresented groups which include African American, Hispanic American students and women. With this in mind, the researcher sought to examine the interactive influence of race/ethnicity and gender based on the aforementioned social cognitive factors. The Engineering Occupational Self- Efficacy questionnaire was used and an online survey was utilized with questions designed to solicit student participant self-assessments in order to examine possible relationships between and among these constructs. Data was collected and analyzed on relationships and measures of the nine identified social cognitive factors as they relate to the academic achievement of first year underrepresented engineering students. This study included a convenience sample of 203 participants (n = 203). The sample consisted of first-year engineering majors who enrolled in the fall of 2010. In addition, in order to increase the opportunity for an adequate response rate, the participation of students from more than one university was solicited. The universities that participated in this study were the University of Akron, Cedarville University, Central State University, University of Cincinnati, the University of Dayton, Miami University, Ohio University, The Ohio State University, University of Toledo, Wilberforce University, and Wright State University. The findings in this study were analyzed by utilizing an ANOVA in order to examine the data and determine the differences between groups on the nine identified social cognitive variables. The study employed Pearson correlation to investigate the relationships between and among the nine social cognitive variables. Differences in academic performance (university GPA of first-year undergraduate engineering students) were analyzed by ethnicity and gender. There was a main effect for ethnicity only. Gender was found not to be significant. Hispanics were not found to be significantly different in their GPAs than Whites but Blacks were found to have lower GPAs than Whites. Also, Pearson correlation coefficients were used to examine the relationship between and among the nine identified social cognitive variables. The data from the analysis uncovered ten significant correlations which were as follows: occupational self-efficacy and academic self-efficacy, occupational self-efficacy and vocational interest, occupational self-efficacy and perceived stress, academic self-efficacy and encouragement, academic self-efficacy and outcome expectations, academic self-efficacy and perceived stress, vocational interest and outcome expectations, discouragement and encouragement, coping and perceived stress, outcome expectations and perceived stress. In addition, an ANOVA was used to evaluate whether a significant difference existed for each of the nine identified social cognitive variables based on ethnicity and gender. The analysis of variance indicated that ethnicity was found to be significant for academic self-efficacy. Next, a Pearson correlation coefficient was utilized to examine the relationship between academic performance (college GPA) of first-year undergraduate engineering students and the nine identified social cognitive variables. The data analysis revealed three significant correlations which were as follows academic performance and occupational self-efficacy, academic performance and academic self-efficacy, and academic performance and encouragement. Finally, a Pearson correlation coefficient was used to examine the relationship between high school GPA and the nine identified social cognitive variables. The Pearson correlational coefficient indicated that there was one statistically significant correlation which was high school GPA and academic self-efficacy. Recommendations for further study included (a) future research involving investigations that compare a variety of institutions in different regions of the country; (b) further investigations utilizing open-ended responses from engineering students based on interviews; (c) a replicated study in 5 to 10 years to evaluate whether differences emerged relating to ethnicity and gender due to possible societal or cultural changes; and (d) a study involving a pretest and posttest of students' self-efficacy beliefs. Finally, the researcher recommends a qualitative study specifically involving interview questions aimed at students with moderate level grades and SAT scores who exhibited above average academic performance.


Engineering students Minorities Research, Academic achievement Sex differences Research, Academic achievement Research, Minority students Research, Social perception Research, Self-efficacy Research

Rights Statement

Copyright 2012, author