This project explores how engineering students understand diversity and inclusion within their engineering programs, and how these understandings are shaped by aspects of the environment in which they are situated.
Our study is a component of a broader research project that is examining the seemingly intractable problems of diversity and inclusion that emerge through the converging threads of formation of professional identity and culture of engineering disciplines. In this study we utilized a qualitative analysis of interview data to explore the undergraduate students’ perceptions of diversity and inclusion within the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at Purdue University . Our interview draws upon cultural dimensions of engineering disciplines that encourage student to reflect upon and assess diversity and inclusion efforts within ECE .
To interrogate students’ perceptions of diversity and inclusion, we interviewed 13 current or past undergraduate ECE students. With nearly 40 percent of the undergraduate ECE students identifying as international students, such a significant international population poses tremendous learning opportunities as well as challenges related to diversity and inclusion. Thus, formal efforts within ECE have been made to bridge cultural differences, develop intercultural competencies, and promote inclusion of internationally and domestically diverse ECE members. However, these efforts have met with mixed results. Our analysis of the interview data suggests that these efforts often were not aligned with literature about how to successfully bridge culture differences in that they lacked an explicit focus on students’ understandings of diversity and inclusion, nor did they provide opportunities for students to reflect on their personal and educational experiences.
In what follows, we first examine the framing of scholarship about diversity and inclusion within engineering and then draw upon literature using Kolb’s experiential learning models to illuminate the transformational nature that reflection plays within establishing ways of viewing complex social problems. With this combination and reimagining of reflection as a pathway to more deeply understanding diversity and inclusion, we describe our research methods, data analysis, and the findings from our qualitative analysis. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of the tensions pertaining to difference and sameness that emerged through our analysis. Namely, formal efforts within ECE required both scaffolding and intentionality. Without proper facilitation, the central role that diversity and inclusion plays within professional formation appeared forced, created more cultural isolation, or students ignored these efforts altogether to complete assignments. We conclude by offering both theoretical and pragmatic implications for engineering curriculum.
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