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Vogel, Linda

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Women of color are historically underrepresented in STEM, specifically the field of engineering (National Science Board, National Science Foundation, 2019). In considering ways to assist in women of color’s retention and persistence in engineering, it is necessary to recognize the role internships, a form of experiential education, at the undergraduate level impact professional identity development. The purpose of this study was to understand how internship experiences shape professional identity development for undergraduate women of color in engineering. Using a constructivist epistemology, a theoretical framework integrating social cognitive theory and intersectionality, and an interpretive methodology; the researcher utilized semi-structured interviews and focus groups to capture the impact of internship experiences on 12 undergraduate women of color at Western State University, an engineering-focused institution in the western United States. Five themes emerged in this research. The first two themes spoke to external factors within work environments. These included the impact of support structures within internship experiences and participant perception of company culture. The next three themes specifically addressed ways in which participants internalized their internships in their own self-understanding. These included a greater developed awareness of their salient and valued identities and an ability to articulate these values as related to a future career, an increased sense of confidence and self-agency in their career management, and more career clarity and sense of direction and purpose moving forward. Further, the researcher offers tangible suggestions for practice for employers, university and career services professionals, and the larger STEM community.


202 pages

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Copyright is held by the author.