First-Year Students' Beliefs About Smartness and Their Beliefs About the Relationship Between Smartness and Socioeconomic Status

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2020-12

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The Ohio State University

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Abstract

In undergraduate engineering programs, we know that students who express beliefs about smartness that are normative (such as prioritizing cognitive ability) are more favored for success, and we know that students hailing from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to succeed than their peers with higher-socioeconomic backgrounds. However, there is currently a relative lack of research pertaining to the intersection between socioeconomic status and beliefs about smartness. To contribute to this gap, this study addresses the following research question: What do first-year engineering students believe about smartness, and what do they believe about the relationship between smartness and socioeconomic status? I collected qualitative data through one-on-one interviews with fourteen first-year engineering students about their beliefs about smartness and the relationship between smartness and socioeconomic status (SES). Through an iterative, qualitative coding process, I analyzed interviews and developed themes based on their responses. I found that students expressed three major beliefs about smartness: that it was defined by achievement, that it was defined by effort, and that it was a local construct. Students expressed the belief that smartness was effort much more commonly when discussing peers they perceived as not smart. This indicates that students believe that smartness is a mixture of achievement and effort, and that the two have varying importance depending on whether students are discussing smartness or a lack of smartness. I also found that most students believed smartness and SES to be linked in some way, but some students believed the two concepts to not be linked at all. All students, however, acknowledged similar advantages of students with high SES. Further investigation is recommended to more thoroughly investigate students' beliefs about the relationship between smartness and SES.

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Engineering, Beliefs, Smartness, Socioeconomic Status

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