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  1. The purpose of this research paper is to understand how diverse students are incorporated into the social structure of a large enrollment first-year engineering design course. Despite previous work demonstrating the benefits of diverse individuals in engineering, little work has examined how diverse students are incorporated into the social networks that exist within engineering classrooms. Social interactions are one of the most influential sources for integration into communities of practice. Through understanding how students interact and the structure of these interactions, we can elucidate how the engineering community includes members of underrepresented populations. Previous social network analysis (SNA) studies have scrutinized student classroom interactions. These studies typically attempt to link classroom interactions to academic outcomes (i.e., grades). In this study, we start to shift the focus away from connecting student interactions to academic outcomes and examine how the structure of student interactions can encourage an inclusive environment in a formal engineering environment. SNA data was collected via an online survey (n = 502, 74% response rate) one month into the semester at a Western land-grant institution. The survey asked first-year engineering students to indicate with whom they had interacted using a pre-populated list of the class roster and open-ended questions.more »The number of students that were mentioned by a participant (out-degree) is interpreted as a proxy of their sociableness. Whereas, the number of times a student was mentioned by others (in-degree) is interpreted as popularity. We posit that in an inclusive network structure the social behaviors (i.e., in and out-degree) will be independent of students’ demographic characteristics (e.g., race and gender). Nonparametric hypothesis testing (i.e., Kruskal-Wallis and Dunn’s test) was used to investigate the effects of gender and race on both in and out-degree. Results indicate that the social structure of the first-year engineering community is inclusive of both gender and race. Specifically, results indicated no significant differences for in-degree based on measures of race and gender, for students who provided race and gender information. Out-degree was not significantly different based on race. However, women did demonstrate significantly higher out-degree scores (i.e., greater sociableness) than their peers. Building on previous SNA literature, the increased connections expressed by women may lead to increased learning gains or performance within engineering. Results indicated that the social structure of this first-year engineering course, as indicated by in-degree and out-degree, is not significantly different for underrepresented groups. This result begins to illustrate a more complex story than the existing literature has documented of engineering as an unwelcoming environment for underrepresented students. Future work will explore how these structures do or do not persist over time and how individuals develop attitudes towards diverse individuals as a result of these interactions. We hope that the results of this work will provide practical ways to improve engineering climate for underrepresented students.« less
  2. This research paper focuses on the effect of recent national events on first-year engineering students’ attitudes about their political identity, social welfare, perspectives of diversity, and approaches to social situations. Engineering classrooms and cultures often focus on mastery of content and technical expertise with little prioritization given to integrating social issues into engineering. This depoliticization (i.e., the removal of social issues) in engineering removes the importance of issues related to including diverse individuals in engineering, working in diverse teams, and developing cultural sensitivity. This study resulted from the shift in the national discourse, during the 2016 presidential election, around diversity and identities in and out of the academy. We were collecting interview data as a part of a larger study on students attitudes about diversity in teams. Because these national events could affect students’ perceptions of our research topic, we changed a portion of our interviews to discuss national events in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classrooms and how students viewed these events in relation to engineering. We interviewed first-year undergraduate students (n = 12) who indicated large differences of attitudes towards diverse individuals, experiences with diverse team members, and/or residing at the intersection of multiple diversity markers. Wemore »asked participants during the Spring of 2017 to reflect on the personal impact of recent national events and how political discussions have or have not been integrated into their STEM classrooms. During interviews students were asked: 1) Have recent national events impacted you in any way? 2) Have national events been discussed in your STEM classes? 3) If so, what was discussed and how was it discussed? 4) Do these conversations have a place in STEM classes? 5) Are there events you wish were discussed that have not been? Inductive coding was used to analyze interviews and develop themes that were audited for quality by the author team. Two preliminary themes emerged from analysis: political awareness and future-self impact. Students expressed awareness of current political events at the local, national and global levels. They recognized personal and social impacts that these events imposed on close friends, family members, and society. However, students were unsure of how to interpret political dialogue as it relates to policy in engineering disciplines and practices. This uncertainty led students to question their future-selves or careers in engineering. As participants continued to discuss their uncertainty, they expressed a desire to make explicit connections between politics and STEM and their eventual careers in STEM. These findings suggest that depoliticization in the classroom results in engineering students having limited consciousness of how political issues are relevant to their field. This disconnect of political discourse in the classroom gives us a better understanding of how engineering students make sense of current national events in the face of depoliticization. By re-politicising STEM classrooms in a way relevant to students’ futures, educators can better utilize important dialogues to help students understand how their role as engineers influence society and how the experiences of society can influence their practice of engineering.« less
  3. Teaming is a core part of engineering education, especially in the first and last years of engineering when project work is a prevalent focus. The literature on the effects of working in diverse teams is mixed. Negative findings include decreased affect, increased frustration, and sustained conflict in teams. Positive findings include increased productivity, production of high quality products, and divergent-thinking and idea generation. Given these mixed findings, it becomes important to not only understand the practical outputs of working in diverse teams, but also how the experience of working in diverse teams influences whether students see themselves as engineers and whether or not they feel they belong in engineering. Our project, Building Supports for Diversity through Engineering Teams, investigates how students’ attitudes towards diversity influence how students experience work in diverse teams through addressing two main research questions: 1) What changes occur in students’ diversity sensitivity, multicultural effectiveness, and engineering practices as a result of working in diverse teams? 2) How do students’ perceptions of diversity, affect, and engineering practices change because of working on diverse teams? Using a multi-method approach, we deployed survey instruments to determine changes in student’s attitudes about teaming, diversity sensitivity, and openness attitudes. We alsomore »observed students working in teams and interviewed these students about their perceptions of diversity and experiences in their teams. Preliminary results of the quantitative phase show that variance in students’ attitudes about diversity significantly increase over the semester, further reflecting the mixed results that have been seen previously in the literature. Additionally, Social Network Analysis was used to characterize the social structure practices of a multi-section, large-enrollment first-year engineering course. This reveals the underlying social structure of the environment, its inclusiveness, and how diverse students work with others on engineering. Initial results indicate that students are included in social networks regardless of gender and race. Preliminary results of the qualitative phase, using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, have yielded relationships between student’s definitions, valuation, and enactment of diversity in engineering spaces. Individual student’s incoming attitudes of diversity and previous experiences interact with practical needs in first-year engineering classrooms to create different microclimates within each team. These microclimates depict tensions between what instructors emphasize about diversity, stereotypes of engineering as focused on technical instead of social skills, and pragmatic forces of “getting the job done.” This knowledge can help explain some of the complexity behind the conflicting literature on diversity in teams. Ultimately, this research can help us understand how to build inclusive and diverse environments that guide students to learn how to understand their own complex relationship, understanding, and enactment of diversity in engineering. By understanding how students make sense of diversity in engineering spaces, educators and researchers can figure out how to introduce these concepts in relevant ways so that students can inclusively meet the grand challenges in engineering. This curriculum integration, in turn, can improve team interactions and the climate of engineering for underrepresented groups.« less