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Current Projects

Research Foci

The STRIDE research group focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development. In our work we explore multiple intersections of students' identities including gender idenity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, first-generation status, disability, and other social identities to understand how diverse students navigate their engineering pathways. We also examine how students "latent diversity" or their underlying affective and cognitive differences that provide potential sources for innovation but are not visible. The concept of latent diversity focuses on the alternative mindsets and experiences that students bring with them into an engineering degree program rather than on their demographics. In doing so, it takes an asset-based approach rather than focusing on the deficits of students on which some research in diversity has focused (e.g., deficiencies in academic preparation, less understanding of high education systems, lack of support systems, etc.). Students, regardless of background, bring diverse and unique ways of thinking and ideas to the table. If engineering culture privileges particular ways of thinking or being as what it means to be an engineer, it may be alienating for latently diverse students. Recognizing students’ attitudes, mindsets, and innovation as important provides a way to support all students in engineering. Our active, funded projects are listed below.

Building Supports for Diversity through Engineering Teams

This project is a collaborative effort funded by NSF (EEC 1531586/1531174) between researchers at University of Nevada, Reno (Adam Kirn) and Purdue University (Allison Godwin). Developing students who can work effectively in cross-cultural teams is an important part of engineering education. In our increasingly global economy, students must be adequately prepared to meet the demands of the engineering workforce. However, many students do not have international exposure prior to college or the experience of interacting with others from a variety of backgrounds. As such, understanding how to improve team interactions within culturally diverse groups can provide novel opportunities for students to more deeply appreciate differences in engineering teams while simultaneously deepening their understanding of engineering concepts. This project is focused on how students participate in diverse engineering teams in first-year courses and how their participation impacts students' multicultural effectiveness and diversity sensitivity. Multicultural effectiveness and diversity sensitivity have been shown to help achieve a common group identity that is essential to effective teams. This project is motivated by two broader goals in the engineering education community and promoted by ABET which are complementary: 1) to graduate students with an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams and 2) to give students the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions globally. Understanding the experiences of students engaging in engineering design and the resulting shifts in attitudes will help identify practical ways to increase students' understanding and appreciation of people from diverse backgrounds. These interventions may change the culture of engineering at these institutions to make it more inclusive of underrepresented students. This project is supported by the Research in Engineering Education program and the EHR Core Research (ECR) program, specifically the ECR Research in Disabilities Education area of special interest. ECR emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. This research project contributes to foundational knowledge about broadening participation in STEM.

CAREER: Actualizing Latent Diversity: Building Innovation through Engineering Students' Identity Development

The U.S. needs new and innovative engineering solutions to meet the global demands of our growing economy. However, most engineers graduating from engineering degree programs are more alike in their problem solving approaches, ways of thinking, and engineering identities than different in their skills as innovative thinkers. Students who do not conform to this mold of "being an engineer" are often alienated from engineering, do not develop engineering identities, and leave engineering, which reduces the much-needed human potential for innovation. The overarching goal of this project funded by NSF EEC (1554057) is to characterize how latently diverse students experience the culture of engineering and negotiate their identities as engineers. To answer these questions, a national survey data from first-year engineering students will be collected and latent diversity will be characterized by using topological data analysis. From these results, longitudinal narrative interviews with latently diverse students will be used to understand students’ identity development how this identity development as is supported or hindered by their classroom experiences and institutional structure. The integrated education plan will implement pedagogies to support the development of latently diverse students in first-year engineering programs (a critical time point at which many talented students are lost from engineering programs). By directly providing engineering educators and leadership with a new understanding of ways to support these latently diverse students, and by revealing unexpected problems and functional solutions in the way these students navigate engineering degree programs, the integrated research and educational plan will directly impact the educational experiences of thousands of engineering students to develop innovative, rather than homogeneous, engineers.

Preparing Engineers to Address Climate Change and its Implications on Sustainability: Modeling Impact of College Experiences on Students

This collaborative project with Tripp Shealy a faculty member in the Construction Engineering and Management Department at Virginia Tech is funded by NSF EEC (1635204)Engineers are an essential part of solving the effects of climate change and must not only be aware of the issues but empowered to make change to reduce and shift the impact of humans on the planet. This research will investigate engineering students' experiences during undergraduate programs that predict their beliefs about climate change and empowerment to address its related implications for sustainability in their careers. This study is the first of its kind to explore how experiences in college impact students' climate change beliefs and interests to address related implications for sustainability. To advance understanding, undergraduate engineering seniors' attitudes, empowerment, career goals, and experiences will be measured using a nationally representative survey just prior to students entering the workforce.When topics related to climate change and its implications for sustainability are included in these settings, the expectation is to find an increase in student willingness to take action to address the issues. This quantitative approach can provide generalizable trends about what happens during college and how it affects students' self-beliefs and long-term goals.  

The Role of Non-Cognitive and Affective Factors in Engineering and Computing Student Academic Performance

This collaborative project with Purdue faculty Ed Berger and Michael Loui along with Ann Gates at University of Texas El Paso and John Chen, Brian Self, and James Widmann at Cal Poly seeks to understand the ways in which students succeed and fail in STEM majors. This project funded by NSF IUSE (162687) will develop powerful ways to support them and will pay dividends for our students, our institutions, and our nation. This project is completing the first national, comprehensive study of the role of non-cognitive and affective (NCA) factors, including personality, grit, identity, and many others, in student academic performance in undergraduate engineering curricula. Understanding the role of NCA factors allows the project to continue developing appropriate on-campus resources for students in need of academic or personal support. This project uses a mixed methods desing to explore the role of NCA factors in undergraduate engineering and computing student success. Across the three partner institutions, which persent diverse student bodies, survey, interview, and intervention data is being collected and correlated to course performance and overal acdemic and personal success measures.  This project uses a mixed-methods design to explore the role of NCA factors in undergraduate engineering student academic success. 

EAGER: Student Support in STEM: Developing and validating a tool to assess the magnitude of college-level support provided to undergraduate students

In partnership with Walter Lee and David Knight at Virgina Polytechnic Institute and State University through an NSF grant (ECR 1704350) , this project explores the dvelopment avalidtion of a survey instrument that can be used by college adminstors and student-support practinioners to assess the magnitue of instituational support received by undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). An instrument to do this work does not currently exist. Such an instrument is important because it will facilitiate college administrators monitoring progress in student support. It will also lead to the identification of opportunities with regard to making local STEM learning environments more supportive from the perspectives of undergraduates, in general. The research team plans to survey students at multiple institutions to asss their local environments, provide data-driven evidence for interventions tailored to unmet needs, and minor progress in effectively supporting students. 

EAGER: Supporting Faculty Early Career Development in Engineering Education Research

This collaborative project with Jennifer Karlin at Minnesota State University Mankato (EEC 1837808/1837805) focuses on the National Science Foundation's CAREER award as a particular indicator of early success in engineering education. Using an untested approach to infrastructure development for early engineering education researchers, the project applies theories from organizational change literature in order to equitably provide CAREER application resources and support to early career engineering education researchers throughout the United States. This effort addresses the concerns around differential faculty support within different types of appointments and provides leadership development to support engineering education faculty's movement into core positions with the community. This work provides support and resources for faculty who are often "lone wolves" or otherwise unsupported in engineering education researchers at their institutions. These individuals play an important role in the engineering education research community and equitable access to resources for CAREER application development provides not only strong development for researchers at engineering departments and centers but also to those who connect into more traditional engineering spaces. By expanding who has access to engineering education research resources and support, we can diversify and improve the quality of CAREER applications. Finally, a focus on long-term sustainability will embed the changes made by building this much needed infrastructure to assist engineering education researchers nationwide and create lasting change in engineering education.