Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tend to experience the traditional education system differently than their peers. The engineering education system has yet to realize unique potential of these students and identify ways in which to handle these differences in order to keep them engaged and successful. Published literature suggests that individuals with ADHD have the potential of strong divergent thinking skills and unparalleled risk-taking. However, this group of students is significantly underrepresented in engineering programs; some work suggests that only 3% of college students with ADHD choose to study engineering. The current design of engineering education largely fails to provoke the interest of these students because of its overemphasis on lecture-based learning and its discouraging evaluation methods. To recognize the unique intellectual strengths of engineering students with ADHD and encourage them to continue in engineering careers, a specialized Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site titled “REU Site: Research Experience in Cyber and Civil Infrastructure Security for Students with ADHD: Fostering Innovation” has been funded by the NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers.
This paper presents the significant observations of the performance of these students in research environment and the findings from the evaluation of the program through pre- and post-program surveys. It was found that through several informal and formal peer-to-peer interaction opportunities, the participating students related to one another’s similar experiences and struggles in school and everyday life. Their interaction with the PI, who has firsthand experience with ADHD, presented them with a different perspective about their ADHD. The specialized seminars related to ADHD challenges and potentials helped the students gain confidence in their abilities and realize the unique benefits they can offer to the advancement of the nation. The eight participating students became heavily engaged in hands-on research lab activities with no issues related to lack of attention or interest. The majority of the participants intellectually contributed to their research projects, at a level comparable to advanced graduate students. In general, the participating students became more interested in engineering and desired to continue conducting research after the program’s conclusion and pursue graduate studies. This experience clearly demonstrated that, in a properly designed education system based on learning-by-doing, students with ADHD might outperform their peers without ADHD-related impairments. This program intends to establish that ADHD may be perceived as a unique strength, not a disability.
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