Recognizing the funds of knowledge of first-generation college students in engineering: An instrument development

Verdín et al. / The Journal of Engineering Education / July 2021

Students who are the first in their families to attend college are an integral part of undergraduate engineering programs. Growing bodies of research argue that educators could better support these students if they understood the unique backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge they bring with them to higher education. The purpose of this article is twofold. First, the authors identify salient funds of knowledge used by a group of first-generation college students in their educational and work-related experiences. Secondly, the authors use the funds of knowledge identified in participants' experiences to create a survey instrument. A mixed methods approach was used. Ethnographic interview data of six first-generation college students were used to hypothesize constructs and create survey items. Survey data were collected from 812 students. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were used to verify the underlying theoretical structures among the survey items and hypothesized constructs. Validity evidence supported a 10-factor model as opposed to the hypothesized 6-factor model. The 10 latent constructs that make up the funds of knowledge instrument are as follows: tinkering knowledge from home, tinkering knowledge from work, connecting experiences, networks from family members, networks from college friends, networks from coworkers, networks from neighborhood friends, perspective taking, reading people, and mediating ability. Recognizing first-generation college students' funds of knowledge is a first step to creating curricular spaces and experiences that better serve them. A survey scale allows educators to empirically examine how these accumulated bodies of knowledge are transmitted to capital, create advantages in engineering, and provides a useful tool to bridge students' knowledge in the classroom.