Promoting diversity in engineering education has been a major initiative of ASEE in recent years, and may contribute to greater social equity, reduced opportunity costs, and greater creativity in the field of engineering. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the inclusion of women and minorities improves the productivity and creativity of teams. However, there is little awareness of the potential contributions of neurodiverse individuals, such as those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD has been shown to be associated with creativity, innovation, and risk-taking. While these traits are all potential assets in the field of engineering, individuals with ADHD are extremely underrepresented in engineering programs. Too often, nontraditional thinkers struggle within the confines of the traditional engineering education curriculum. Providing these students opportunities to learn in a style that is more consistent with their unique strengths may positively affect the recruitment and retention of those with diverse cognitive styles. To promote the inclusion of students with ADHD in engineering, and thereby increase the diversity of the field, a specialized Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site has been funded by the NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers. This site provided students with ADHD an opportunity to engage in research outside the confines of the traditional engineering curriculum and interact with other students facing similar challenges.
This paper presents quantitative and qualitative findings from a semi-structured interview and post-program survey of the students’ experiences. Overall, the major findings suggest that participating in the program enhanced students’ 1) interest in engineering research, 2) interest in pursuing graduate studies in engineering, and 3) feelings of belonging in engineering. For instance, all participants (N=10) responded either “agree” or “strongly agree” to statements reflecting that attending the REU site increased their interest in research and in pursuing graduate studies. Responses to open-ended items on the survey, as well as responses during interviews, indicated that attending the REU site enhanced students’ feelings of belonging, which has been shown to positively influence persistence in engineering education. Understanding the challenges and potential of students with ADHD characteristics in engineering programs is needed to stem attrition in engineering education and promote cognitive diversity in the field. The implications of these findings for promoting inclusion and diversity in engineering and suggestions for educators to make courses more inclusive for neurodiverse students are discussed.
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