Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Teacher Education and Leadership

Committee Chair(s)

Oenardi Lawanto, Sherry Marx


Oenardi Lawanto


Sherry Marx


Kurt Becker


David Feldon


Idalis Villanueva


Today, postsecondary engineering education stands perched on the edge of transformation. A precursor to impending change is national recognition that nontraditional students—adults and working students with socioeconomic backgrounds not currently well-represented in engineering education—possess untapped potential to improve the diversity as well as increase the size of the U.S. engineering workforce. To support nontraditional student participation in engineering, a qualitative investigation was undertaken to examine the ways in which nontraditional engineering undergraduates defined and experienced success during their engineering education. It is thought that, through a deeper, richer understanding of the ways in which the nontraditional engineering undergraduates overcome barriers and experience success, newer, more impactful alternative pathways that assist nontraditional students in becoming part of the engineering profession can be envisioned and developed.

During this study, 14 nontraditional student participants were purposefully sampled from the population of undergraduates who participated in a distance-delivered, alternative engineering transfer program offered at a western, land-grant, public university between 2009-2015. Qualitative data from in-depth interviews were used to co-develop life history–style narratives for each of the participants. Completed narratives chronologically ordered and richly described the participants’ experiences leading up to, happening during, and occurring after their engineering education. Narrative analysis revealed that the nontraditional student participants viewed their own educational success contextually, relationally, and in terms of their long-term goals for social mobility through engineering careers. Additionally, the distance-delivered alternative engineering transfer program was seen to promote their educational success in three ways: a) working to promote long-range career goals through job market signaling, b) enabling academic bootstrapping in an adult learning environment, and c) maintaining connection to community-based support through place. Recommendations for engineering programs that seek to broaden nontraditional student participation are offered.