Innovation is the key to economic growth and prosperity, and engineering is a critical driver in industrial innovation. Many companies are discovering that increased and more diverse approaches to problem solutions contribute to product innovation, global competence, and other successful corporate outcomes. However, engineering persistently lacks the diverse mindsets and ways of thinking needed to solve complex problems facing our world. Through this CAREER grant, we fill this gap by characterizing latent diversity or diverse engineering students’ mindsets, thoughts, attitudes, and potential for innovation. We define latent diversity as the underlying attributes and characteristics of students not readily visible within the classroom. These latent attributes are present, but are not visible or actualized, and have the capacity to become or develop into opportunities for innovation in the future.
Students enter engineering with a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and mindsets that homogenized in becoming “an engineer.” Our current educational practices develop students with more similar engineering mindsets than different, which is problematic for innovation. Also, this process alienates many students, and the engineering profession loses innovation and talent if these latently diverse students leave. Therefore, this research addresses the following research questions, 1) what kinds of diversity in thought, innovation mindsets, and attitudes are present in engineering students 2) how do undergraduate students with latent diversity form engineering identities within an engineering community of practice over time, and 3) what support, both inside and outside of the classroom, can be provided to promote inclusion of students with latent diversity in engineering?
This paper describes the first phase of our research. We have developed a comprehensive survey of students’ latent attributes developed from an extensive literature review as well as pilot interviews with students. To date, we have recruited 37 ABET accredited institutions to participate in this study. This recruitment was done via a random stratified list of institutions to ensure representation from various size by undergraduate engineering enrollment and type of institutions and prevent overrepresentation from a few large institutions in the sample. The instructors at these institutions have estimated that they will distribute the paper-and-pencil survey to approximately 6,400 students. Even with responses rates consistent with previous studies (~55%), the number of responses in this sample are the first of their kind to characterize the breadth of student attitudes, mindsets, and beliefs in identity, motivation, epistemic beliefs, agency, masculine social norms, innovation self-efficacy, and other constructs on a national scale. In this paper, we will report the initial findings from our pilot interviews and survey results.
Recognizing and understanding this form of diversity can promote a more inclusive environment in engineering and recruit, educate, retain, and graduate more innovative and diverse engineers. Additionally, the outcomes of this work will help create more inclusive college classrooms that accept a wider set of students and produce engineers who can adopt various perspectives for innovative problem solutions. This research has significant implications for developing an engineering (and broadly STEM) workforce rich in talent and capable of adapting to the changing engineering landscape.
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