skip to main content

Title: Constructing a comprehensive and adaptive survey for cultural analysis of engineering departments
ABSTRACT CONTEXT Culture influences the dynamics and outcomes of organizations in profound ways, including individual-level outcomes (like the quality of work products) and collective impacts (such as reputation or influence). As such, understanding organizational culture is a crucial element of understanding performance; from an anthropological perspective, ‘performance’ is not an outcome of culture, it is a part of culture. A key challenge in understanding organizational culture, especially in complex academic organizations, is the lack of a flexible, scalable approach for data collection and analysis. PURPOSE OR GOAL In this study, we report on our development of a survey-based cultural characterization tool that leverages both lightweight data collection from stakeholders in the organization and public information about that organization. We also integrate perspectives from prior literature about faculty, students, and staff in academic departments. Taken together, the resulting survey covers key elements of culture and allows for scalable data collection across settings via customizations and embedded logic in the survey itself. The outcome of this work is a design process for a new and promising tool for scalable cultural characterization, and we have deployed this tool across two institutions. APPROACH OR METHODOLOGY/METHODS We leverage prior research, our own preliminary data collection, and our experience with this approach in a different setting to develop a cultural characterization survey suitable for delivery to multiple engineering department stakeholders (faculty, staff, and students). We start with a modest number of interviews, stratified by these three groups and achieving saturation of responses, to understand their views on their organization, its strengths and weaknesses, and their perceptions of how it ‘works’. We merge this information with public data (for instance, departmental vision or mission statements, which convey a sense of priorities or values) as well as prior literature about higher education culture. We also draw upon our experience in another setting as well as pilot testing data, and the result is a carefully-constructed set of dichotomous items that are offered to department stakeholders in survey form using an electronic survey platform. We also collect background and demographic information in the survey. The resulting data are analyzed using Cultural Consensus Theory (CCT) to extract meaningful information about the departmental culture from the perspectives of the stakeholder groups. ACTUAL OR ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES The resulting survey consists of two parts, each with sub-components. The two top level survey parts contain: (i) items common to all respondents in all settings (i.e. all institutions in this study), and (ii) a set of institution-specific items. Within those sections, the framing of the items is calibrated for the stakeholder groups so that items make sense to them within the context of their experience. The survey has been administered, and the data are being analyzed and interpreted presently. We expect the results to capture the specific elements of local culture within these institutions, as well as differences in perspectives and experience among the three primary stakeholder groups. CONCLUSIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS/SUMMARY This study demonstrates a scalable approach to survey development for the purposes of cultural characterization, and its use across settings and with multiple stakeholder groups. This work enables a very nuanced view of culture within a department, and these results can be used within academic departments to enable discussion about change, priorities, performance, and the work environment.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of REES AAEE 2021
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Clark, Mary Diane (Ed.)

    Organizational climate is a key determinant of diverse aspects of success in work settings, including in academia. Power dynamics in higher education can result in inequitable experiences of workplace climate, potentially harming the well-being and productivity of employees. Quantifying experiences of climate across employment categories can help identify changes necessary to create a more equitable workplace for all. We developed and administered a climate survey within our academic workplace—the Department of Zoology and Physiology at the University of Wyoming—to evaluate experiences of climate across three employment categories: faculty, graduate students, and staff. Our survey included a combination of closed-response (e.g., Likert-scale) and open-ended questions. Most department members (82%) completed the survey, which was administered in fall 2021. Faculty generally reported more positive experiences than staff. Graduate students often fell between these two groups, though in some survey sections (e.g., mental health and well-being) students reported the most negative experiences of departmental climate. Three common themes emerged from the analysis of open-ended responses: equity, community, and accountability. We discuss how these themes correspond to concrete action items for improving our departmental climate, some of which have been implemented already, while others constitute future initiatives and/or require a collective push towards systemic change in academia. Finally, service work of this type often falls outside of job descriptions, requiring individuals to either work more or trade-off productivity in other areas that are formally evaluated. With the goal of minimizing this burden for others, we detail our process and provide the materials and framework necessary to streamline this process for other departments aiming to evaluate workplace climate as a key first step in building a positive work environment for all employees.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract—This research-to-practice full paper investigates the alignment of a specific pedagogical innovation, the Freeform pedagogical system, with the student culture(s) of the mechanical engineering department of a small private college (SPC) in the upper Midwest of the United States, we ask the research question: What are the defining characteristics of the student culture or (sub)cultures in the engineering department where the Freeform system is being propagated? Based upon interviews with on-campus stakeholders (students, faculty, and staff), we constructed a 64-item survey to characterize the culture of their engineering department. We analyzed student responses using the cultural consensus theory model (CCT), a quantitative method that looks for patterns of responses to cultural statements. Grouped together, these patterns of responses indicate the values of the sub-cultures present within a participant group. Our results indicate that the best fitting model contains two student subcultures: student subculture 1 (SC1) (n = 15) and student subculture 2 (SC2) (n = 60). These two subcultures exhibit differences across a handful of items that focus on the student experience and in particular the sense of connectedness or belonging among students. Members of SC1 seem to be disconnected from both their peers and their instructors, work primarily alone, and seem to struggle to obtain access to academic assistance. SC1 members also feel overworked with (what they perceive to be) low-value-added activities, and they do not perceive alignment between how instructors teach and how they prefer to learn. In contrast, members of SC2 seem to be aligned with the institutional mission, which focuses on faculty-student relationships and learning in the community 
    more » « less
  3. Changing Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Culture from the Bottom Up: Action Plans Generated from Faculty Interviews We prefer a Lessons Learned Paper. In a collaborative effort between a RED: Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments (RED) National Science Foundation grant awarded to an electrical and computer engineering department (ECpE) and a broader, university-wide ADVANCE program, ECpE faculty were invited to participate in focus groups to evaluate the culture of their department, to further department goals, and to facilitate long-term planning. Forty-four ECpE faculty members from a large Midwestern university participated in these interviews, which were specifically focused on departmental support and challenges, distribution of resources, faculty workload, career/family balance, mentoring, faculty professional development, productivity, recruitment, and diversity. Faculty were interviewed in groups according to rank, and issues important to particular subcategories of faculty (e.g., rank, gender, etc.) were noted. Data were analyzed by a social scientist using the full transcript of each interview/focus group and the NVivo 12 Qualitative Research Software Program. She presented the written report to the entire faculty. Based on the results of the focus groups, the ECpE department developed an action plan with six main thrusts for improving departmental culture and encouraging departmental change and transformation. 1. Department Interactions – Encourage open dialogue and consider department retreats. Academic areas should be held accountable for the working environment and encouraged to discuss department-related issues. 2. Mentoring, Promotion, and Evaluation – Continue mentoring junior faculty. Improve the clarity of P&T operational documents and seek faculty input on the evaluation system. 3. Teaching Loads – Investigate teaching assistant (TA) allocation models and explore models for teaching loads. Develop a TA performance evaluation system and return TA support to levels seen in the 2010 timeframe. Improvements to teaching evaluations should consider differential workloads, clarifying expectations for senior advising, and hiring more faculty for undergraduate-heavy areas. 4. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – Enact an explicit focus on diversity in hiring. Review departmental policies on inclusive teaching and learning environments. 5. Building – Communicate with upper administration about the need for a new building. Explore possibilities for collaborations with Computer Science on a joint building. 6. Support Staff – Increase communication with the department regarding new service delivery models. Request additional support for Human Resources, communications, and finance. Recognize staff excellence at the annual department banquet and through college/university awards. 
    more » « less
  4. First-generation college students often experience greater social alienation and marginalization due to a mismatch of their cultural values compared to those of their university and often report lower academic satisfaction and sense of belonging. The effects on sense of belonging and satisfaction are intensified when first-generation college students have identities that intersect with other stigmatized social and cultural identities, like low socioeconomic status, Black or Latinx racial identities or religious identities, specifically for STEM majors. Students’ holistic health and well-being, including their sense of belonging, is highly correlated to their academic achievement, persistence, and overall student success, especially for underrepresented minority groups. However, there has been limited consideration for the nuanced experiences of first-generation college students with multiple stigmatized identities, and for how the academic STEM environment shapes student’s perceptions of inclusivity considering their social identities. To address these concerns, we used the Bioecological Systems theory to contextualize drivers of sense of belonging for students with stigmatized social and cultural identities by allowing space to explicitly consider institutional, departmental, classroom and societal-level phenomena that may operate to erode or fortify belonging for some individuals over others. Findings were organized contextually first, revealing how broader societal and familial values shaped their perceptions of their first-generation identity. Next, we reported how various forms of engagement and interactions with institutional agents impacted their perceptions of support at the institutional level. We then documented behavioral patterns within STEM departments that culminated to reveal how first-generation college students’ sense of belonging was impacted by perceived departmental culture. Last, we revealed interactions within STEM classrooms that signaled inclusivity through humanizing and intentional pedagogical practices. Infused throughout all findings are instances where student experiences were mediated through their multiple identities and were shaped by dual global pandemics of 2020, that being COVID-19 and the racial unrest resurfaced by the murder of George Floyd. Implications for this work have the potential to restructure how institutions provide support for first-generation college students given the salience of their intersecting stigmatized identities in shaping their institutional, disciplinary, and classroom belonging. 
    more » « less
  5. Student success in educational ecosystems is a primary goal of leadership efforts. Yet, power and privilege affect the racial, classist, and gendered implications of STEM education work in K-12 education as well as higher education. Interventions have been done at various levels, but despite the hard work of implementation, this has not resulted in dramatic improvements to STEM educational ecosystems or student engagement within them. Often, these implementations are done at the faculty/student level or institutional level but not at the departmental leadership level. The NSF-supported Eco-STEM Project proposes to establish a healthy educational ecosystem that supports all individuals (students, faculty, and staff) to thrive. Project activities are guided by ecosystem paradigm measures that support a culturally responsive learning/working environment; make teaching and learning rewarding and fulfilling; and emphasize community assets to enhance motivation, excellence, and success. For this work-in-progress paper, we describe the development of a leadership community of practice, comprised of department chairs of science and engineering departments, at [university name redacted], a large state-funded comprehensive majority minority master’s granting institution in the Southwest United States. In the year-long Leadership Community of Practice (L-CoP), the Fellows work on unpacking issues of power and privilege in their roles as STEM leaders and educators. During the Fall semester of 2022, the Fellows participated in four sessions. They engaged in readings, videos, active-learning activities, and critically reflective dialogues to facilitate discussion and reflection on identity, agency, the culture of power in STEM, and interventions and change in higher education. The L-CoP starts with Fellows reflecting on their social and professional identities and how their identities influence their teaching and leadership philosophies. Then Fellows are introduced to the framework of the culture of power in science--where they explore the social, cultural, and political impacts of preparing for a STEM college education. Finally, they explore theories and models of change for STEM higher education spaces. Through this curriculum, we aim to examine mental models to deconstruct notions that uphold the culture of power in science by instead building counternarratives with faculty and students in their departments. Through dialogues within the L-CoP, leaders discuss classroom/program climate, structure, and vibrancy to better support healthy educational ecosystems, as well as their participation in these systems. We are currently in the middle of our first implementation of the L-CoP. The first cohort consists of six L-CoP Fellows with highly diverse positionalities; there is racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, and all Fellows are full professors in the tenure line and chairs of their respective departments. We present details of the L-CoP, including the formation of the Fellow cohort, training of the facilitators, structure of the sessions, and initial results of our mid-program survey. The survey results provide insights into potential improvements to our tools and program. We also share some of the Fellows’ and facilitators’ reflections demonstrating a shift toward an ecosystem mindset. We prefer to present this work as a poster at the 2023 ASEE Annual Conference. 
    more » « less