Three broad issues have been identified in the professional formation of engineers: 1) the gap between what students learn in universities and what they practice upon graduation; 2) the limiting perception that engineering is solely technical, math, and theory oriented; and 3) the lack of diversity (representation of a wide range of people) and lack of inclusion (incorporation of different perspectives, values, and ways of thinking and being in engineering) in many engineering programs. These are not new challenges in professional formation, rather they are persistent and difficult to change. There have been countless calls to recruit and retain women and underrepresented minority group members into engineering careers and numerous strategies proposed to improve diversity, inclusion, and retention.
Despite change in some engineering discipline profiles and curricular reforms for engineering education, there still has not been the deep transformation needed to integrate inclusionary processes and thinking in professional formation. In part, the reason is that diversity and inclusion are still framed as “problems” to be solved. What is needed instead is an approach that understands and explores diversity and inclusion as interrelated with the epistemological (what do students need to know) and ontological (what does it mean to be an engineer) underpinnings of engineering. These issues are highly complex, interconnected, and not amenable to simple solutions, that is, they are “wicked” problems. They require design thinking. Thus this NSF-funded RFE study utilizes a design thinking approach and research activities to explore foundational understandings of formation and diversity and inclusion in engineering while addressing the three project objectives: 1) Better prepare engineers for today’s workforce; 2) Broaden understandings of engineering practice as both social and technical; and 3) Create and sustain more diverse and inclusionary engineering programs. The project is organized around the three phases of the design process (inspiration, ideation, and implementation), and embedded within the design process is a longitudinal, multiphase, mixed-methods study. The project will involve key stakeholders (students, faculty, staff, and administrators) from the schools of [University] in the research and design processes.
In this paper we describe this research project in more detail, including the study contexts, target subject populations, and procedures for quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, and preliminary results. We will also discuss the planned design activities with the stakeholders, as well as some possible limitations to our approach.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.