Centering the Marginalized Student’s Voice Through Autoethnography: Implications for Engineering Education Research

Co-authored by Associate Professor Julie Martin of the Department of Engineering Education and Chavone Garza, a former student at Clemson University, this autoethnography focuses on Garza's journey as an engineering undergraduate.

Drawing on critical race theory, the counterstory illustrates structural challenges that some underrepresented students face when they pursue STEM degrees. At the same time, drawing on autoethnography, the article challenges engineering education researchers to reconsider how they engage with participants in their work:

The process and product of this autoethnography provide the engineering education community with a counterstory that challenges the majoritarian narrative of low African American student achievement and common deficit theorizing that blames the individual student, their family, or culture for educational underperformance. Chavone’s reflections illustrate how a marginalized student aspired to go to college and actively resisted and navigated multiple systemic oppressions to become an engineering undergraduate at a major university. Her counterstory also provides examples of changes that are needed for the educational system to become inclusive to all students.


The process and product of this autoethnography provide engineering education researchers with an alternative way to approach qualitative studies of marginalized participants by demonstrating one way to center the voices of participants rather than unintentionally exploiting them. It serves an example of what Sochacka and colleagues so aptly call a “less-explored, messier, and much harder-to-control collaborative approach” (2018, p. 373). By collaborating with participants as coresearchers and coauthors, participants share authority in how their stories are told. Researchers recognize participants as holders and creators of knowledge and acknowledge those participants as experts in their own experience. In these ways, participants and their lived experiences become central because, in process and product, their voice matters.