funds of knowledge and engineering student success


 Students’ home and work experiences can make them excellent engineers, when positively supported by educators and peers. Our NSF-funded research, teaching, and collaborations explain why this is particularly important for students who are under-represented in engineering, including “first gen” college students. 

our research

With funding from the National Science Foundation (awards 1354087, 1734044 and 2130157 ), we have joined others in documenting the “funds of knowledge” of diverse engineering students, including those who are the first in their families to attend college, who experience racial and/or ethnic minoritization, and who come from low-income backgrounds. Taking a funds of knowledge (FOK) approach — investigating what students uniquely know and can do based on their home and work experiences — flips a script that too often focuses on what these students lack.

On this website, you will find links to research about FOK and engineering, including a quantitative survey developed by Dina Verdín, Jessica Smith, and Juan Lucena that educators and student support professionals can use to help map students’ FOK. The survey can also be used to study links between students’ FOK and their engineering identity, sense of belonging, competence beliefs and persistence beliefs.

Please contact us for more details.

what are funds of knowledge?


Humanitarian engineering & science ambassadors (HESA)

We are thrilled to be able to offer NSF-funded scholarships for low-income students seeking an MS degree in Humanitarian Engineering and Science.

Key research Takeaways

  • First gen students bring valuable FOK with them to engineering, including but not limited to: tinkering knowledge, connecting experiences, networking, perspective taking, reading people, and mediating.
  • Creating space inside of classrooms and programs for students to connect these FOK to their engineering learning can enhance their belongingness, retention, and graduation certainty but only if faculty present an inclusive view of who engineers are and what engineers do.
  • Multiple strategies exist for making these FOK visible and valuable, such as mapping and discussing FOK, inviting skilled tradespeople to interact with students in class, and creating projects or assignments that require specific FOK.
  • Mapping FOK can be particularly transformative for under-represented students, but can also serve as a valuable team buliding activity in which members can appreciate what each person brings to a project.


  • Verdín, Dina, Jessica M. Smith, and Juan Lucena. 2021. Recognizing the Funds of Knowledge of First-Generation College Students in Engineering: An Instrument Development. Journal of Engineering Education 110 (3): 671-699.
  • Verdín, Dina, Jessica Smith, and Juan Lucena. 2021. Funds of Knowledge as Pre-College Experiences that Promote Minoritized Students’ Interest, Self-Efficacy Beliefs, and Choice of Majoring in Engineering. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research 11(1): 192-213.
  • Rainey, Arielle, Dina Verdín and Jessica M. Smith. Classroom Practices that Support Minoritized Engineering Students’ Sense of Belonging. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference (virtual).
  • Verdín, Dina, Jessica Smith, and Juan Lucena. The Influence of Connecting Funds of Knowledge to Beliefs about Performance, Classroom Belonging, and Graduation Certainty for First-generation College Students. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference (virtual).
  • Smith, Jessica, Juan Lucena, and Dina Verdin. 2019. Broadening Participation of First-Generation College Students in Engineering: Backgrounds, Experiences and Strategies for Success. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference, Tampa.
  • Verdín, Dina, Jessica Smith, and Juan Lucena. 2019. Recognizing engineering students’ funds of knowledge: Creating and validating survey measures. Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education conference, Tampa.–33226
  • Smith, Jessica M. and Juan Lucena. 2016. Invisible Innovators: How Low Income, First Generation (LIFG) Students Use Their Funds of Knowledge to Belong in Engineering. Engineering Studies 8 (1): 1-26.
  • Smith, Jessica M. and Juan Lucena. 2016. “How do I show them I’m more than a person who can lift heavy things?” The Funds of Knowledge of Low Income, First Generation Engineering Students. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 22(3): 199–221.
  • Rolston, Jessica Smith and Elizabeth Cox. 2015. Engineering by Doing: Diversity, Innovation and Hands-On Learning. In International Perspectives on Engineering Education: Engineering Education and Practice in Context. Volume 1, S.H. Christensen et al. Pp. 261-278. New York: Springer.
  • Smith, Jessica and Juan Lucena. 2015. Making the Funds of Knowledge of Low Income, First Generation (LIFG) Students Visible and Relevant to Engineering Education. American Society for Engineering Education conference, Seattle.

centers and organizations for first gen students

Center for First Generation Student Success: An Initiative of NASPA and the Super Foundation

  • Source for evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher ed community to advance success of first-gen students
  • Shares new research, conference and event opportunities, access to programs and services

Community Resources for FLI (First-generation and/or Low income) students at Stanford and elsewhere

  • Stanford FLI Conference
  • Research and advice for faculty supporting FLI students

CSU STEM Collaboratives at the Pullias Center for Higher Education

  • Collaboration between eight CSU campuses to test and implement projects incorporating three high-impact educational practices (HIPs): pre-college summer bridge programs, first-year experience courses or programs, and redesigned introductory gateway STEM courses.

Berkeley Office of Undergraduate Admissions First-Gen Resources

First-Generation Scholars Success Coaching at ASU

  • Offers sections on support, student experience, self-care, professional development, and finances

First-Generation Student Success at SDSU

  • Provost Mentoring Program connects current first-year first-generation students to other students and faculty who were also first-gen and/or serve as first-gen advocates
  • Offers First-Generation guidebook
  • Hosts a First-Generation Student Week with events to build community among first-gen students, promote engagement in various opportunities, and provide career and professional development

First-Generation at CSU

Council for Opportunity in Education

  • STEM Community of Practice “seeks to understand the challenges and opportunities related to the provision of STEM support in college access and success programs in different locals, and to build quality relationships among STEM educators, providers, and related entities”
  • STEM careers initiative: