African American males’ experiences on multiracial student teams in engineering

Kelly J. Cross, Marie C. Paretti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Team projects in engineering are critical sites for professional and personal development as students interact with peers and faculty on projects designed to simulate professional engineering work. These projects allow students to practice behaviors and roles to support their engineering identity development and sustained participation in STEM. However, such projects can also have negative impacts on students from underrepresented populations. Multiple studies of women’s experiences on such teams point to unequal gender dynamics and negative experiences. Few studies, however, have focused on racial dynamics. To fill this gap, the current study uses phenomenology to explore the experiences of African American males on multiracial student engineering teams. Eight African American male engineering students were interviewed three times over the course of a semester as they worked on team projects. Intergroup contact theory (ICT), a social science theoretical framework based on the contact hypothesis to reduce anxiety between distinct social groups via interaction under specific conditions, informed the study design. Overall, participants described positive team experiences that included personal interactions and significant awareness of the negative stereotypes about African Americans in engineering and society. The participants also described a lack of friendship opportunity and conflict associated with unmet expectations. Interestingly, participants described their proactive effort to dispel negative stereotypes. Emergent themes are discussed as well as implications for faculty’s approach to student teams or unconscious bias of teammates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-411
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • African American males
  • Intergroup contact
  • Multiracial engineering teams
  • Phenomenology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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