A critical need exists in engineering education to draw on the non-traditional divergent thinking and risk- taking necessary for making radical technological breakthroughs. Literature suggests that individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) characteristics demonstrate unparalleled creativity and risk-taking potential. While this group of students may offer significant benefits to the advancement of the nation, they are currently significantly underrepresented in engineering programs because of the major academic and emotional challenges that the rigidly structured engineering programs impose on them. Funded by the Division of Engineering Education and Centers of the National Science Foundation, this study is aimed at understanding creative potential and challenges of engineering students with ADHD characteristics.
A cohort of 18 female and 36 male undergraduate students were recruited from the School of Engineering at the University of Connecticut (n=54). To quantify the level of ADHD-related characteristics and the creative potential of the participants, the investigators administered Brown ADD Scales for Adults and Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) Figural Form A, respectively. A 40-question instrument was designed and administered to understand the learning styles, the perception of current engineering programs in terms of rewarding creativity and risk-taking, and the difficulties of the participants in engineering programs. It was found that there is a statistically significant positive correlation between the Brown total score and the Creativity Index (r = .45, p = .001). Among Brown subscale scores, attention was found to have the largest correlation with the Creativity Index. There were positive significant correlations with the Creativity Index and all of the Brown subscales except for memory. The Brown scores were found to have positive significant correlations with three of the TTCT sub-categories; fluency, originality, and resistance to premature closure. A negative correlation exists between the GPA and total Brown score, suggesting weaker academic accomplishments of students with ADHD characteristics. GPA showed no correlation with the Creativity Index, suggesting a lack of creativity appreciation in current engineering programs. The Mann-Whitney test on survey questions revealed that students with a higher Brown t-score are significantly more willing to take a chance in which they may fail in order to pursue innovation. This study found that only three of the eighteen students who are formally diagnosed with ADHD are receiving services from the Center of Students with Disabilities CSD. It is expected that the outcomes of this study lead to a paradigm shift in how these individuals are perceived by both our society and our engineering educational system. The knowledge generated through this study will help identifying the academic struggles of this group of students and facilitate development of specialized education programs that foster largely unrecognized talents and unique potential of this underrepresented population.
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