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  1. Abstract Background

    Prior researchers developed an instrument to measure perceived design thinking ability of first‐year students interested in engineering, and they validated the instrument through exploratory factor analysis.


    Our study uses the previously developed instrument to evaluate perceived design thinking ability of senior engineering students. We make a cross‐sectional comparison of this measure on a national scale.


    We surveyed a national sample of senior engineering students in 2018 and conducted a cross‐sectional comparison with results from a 2012 national sample of first‐year students who were interested in declaring an engineering major. Two‐way analysis of variance tests compared average design thinking scores across sample groups. Confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to improve the design thinking instrument.


    First‐year students who intended to declare an engineering major score significantly higher (2.80) on the design thinking scale than senior engineering students (2.59) with a medium effect size of 0.4. The senior engineering sample performs significantly worse on the feedback seeking and experimentalism instrument items, but significantly better on the integrative thinking and collaboration items. We found no significant differences in perceived design thinking ability among engineering disciplines among senior students.


    Feedback seeking and experimentalism are traits that engineering educators should develop in their students to improve perceived design thinking ability. Incorporation of user‐centered design and divergent thinking in the engineering classroom are recommended as avenues to foster feedback seeking and experimentalism. We also offer recommendations to improve the design thinking instrument for future research.

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  2. Engineers play an important role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations, which aim to provide a more sustainable environment for future generations. Through design thinking, creativity, and innovation, sustainable engineering solutions can be developed. Future engineers need to acquire skills in their engineering curriculum to feel equipped to address sustainable design challenges in their career. This paper focuses on the impact of perceived design thinking traits and active learning strategies in design courses to increase senior engineering students’ motivation to engage in energy sustainability in their career. A national survey was distributed to senior engineering students in the United States (n = 4364). The survey asked students about their motivation to engage in sustainable design, their perceived design thinking traits (i.e., integrative feedback, collaboration), and if they experienced active learning strategies in design courses (i.e., learning by doing). The results highlight that higher perceived design thinking ability increases senior engineering students’ interests in designing solutions related to energy sustainability. Active learning experiences positively influence senior engineering students’ interests in designing solutions related to energy sustainability. These findings show the importance of teaching design thinking in engineering courses to empower future engineers to address sustainable challenges through design and innovation. 
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  3. The United Nations recognizes reducing the effects of global warming as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) (#13). This goal is interconnected and critical to improving health and education, reducing inequality, and spurring economic growth globally. Civil engineers will play a vital role in meeting this goal. To understand how civil engineering students perceive global warming, we surveyed a national sample of civil engineering students in their final semester of college (n = 524). We asked them (a) if they recognize both the technical and social issues associated with global warming and (b) when they believe global warming will start to have a severe effect on themselves, others, and the planet. Civil engineering students are significantly more likely to recognize the technical issues associated with global warming than social issues. In particular, the majority of students understand global warming is an immediate issue for the environment, engineering, health, and science, but less than half recognize global warming presents social justice, poverty, and national security issues. Moreover, civil engineering students hold an inverse relationship between spatial distance and the timing of the effects of global warming. The majority of students believe global warming is currently having a severe impact on plant and animal species, the environment, people in developing countries, and the world's poor but do not recognize themselves in this group. Instead, civil engineering students predominantly believe the effects of global warming will start to have a serious impact on themselves, their family, and people in their community in 25 to 50 years. These results are troubling because if those beliefs translate into students waiting to address climate change for another two to five decades locks in more emissions and increases the chance of future and more severe global humanitarian crises. Educational interventions are needed to change these perspectives about time and impact. 
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  4. To address complex problems in a globalized workplace, future engineers must understand the ethical implications of their work in the global context. International service learning is a possible approach for future engineers to gain an understanding of ethical implications in a global context. The purpose of this study is to investigate the potential benefits that international service learning may add to engineering ethics education. The quantitative study measured senior engineering students’ understanding of ethics from a national sample of students enrolled in capstone design courses (n=2095) in three types of international service learning experiences: capstone, volunteer/work, or co-curricular. Students who participated in international service learning through capstone and volunteer/work experience scored significantly (p<0.01, p<0.001 respectively) higher to questions that measured their understanding of ethics. Males compared to female engineering students showed the largest difference in their understanding of ethics. The integration of international service learning into engineering education should be more seriously considered to aid in more effectively teaching ethics. Male engineering students, who make up nearly 80% of engineering programs, can benefit the most in their ethics education from international service learning. 
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  5. Despite increased calls for the need for more diverse engineers and significant efforts to “move the needle,” the composition of students, especially women, earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering has not significantly changed over the past three decades. Prior research by Klotz and colleagues (2014) showed that sustainability as a topic in engineering education is a potentially positive way to increase women’s interest in STEM at the transition from high school to college. Additionally, sustainability has increasingly become a more prevalent topic in engineering as the need for global solutions that address the environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability have become more pressing. However, few studies have examined students’ sustainability related career for upper-level engineering students. This time point is a critical one as students are transitioning from college to industry or other careers where they may be positioned to solve some of these pressing problems. In this work, we answer the question, “What differences exist between men and women’s attitudes about sustainability in upper-level engineering courses?” in order to better understand how sustainability topics may promote women’s interest in and desire to address these needs in their future careers. We used pilot data from the CLIMATE survey given to 228 junior and senior civil, environmental, and mechanical engineering students at a large East Coast research institution. This survey included questions about students’ career goals, college experiences, beliefs about engineering, and demographic information. The students surveyed included 62 third-year students, 96 fourth-year students, 29 fifth-year students, and one sixth-year student. In order to compare our results of upper-level students’ attitudes about sustainability, we asked the same questions as the previous study focused on first-year engineering students, “Which of these topics, if any, do you hope to directly address in your career?” The list of topics included energy (supply or demand), climate change, environmental degradation, water supply, terrorism and war, opportunities for future generations, food availability, disease, poverty and distribution of resources, and opportunities for women and/or minorities. As the answer to this question was binary, either “Yes,” or “No,” Pearson’s Chi-squared test with Yates’ continuity correction was performed on each topic for this question, comparing men and women’s answers. We found that women are significantly more likely to want to address water supply, food availability, and opportunities for woman and/or minorities in their careers than their male peers. Conversely, men were significantly more likely to want to address energy and terrorism and war in their careers than their female peers. Our results begin to help us understand the particular differences that men and women, even far along in their undergraduate engineering careers, may have in their desire to address certain sustainability outcomes in their careers. This work begins to let us understand certain topics and pathways that may support women in engineering as well as provides comparisons to prior work on early career undergraduate students. Our future work will include looking at particular student experiences in and out of the classroom to understand how these sustainability outcome expectations develop. 
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  6. Anthropogenic climate change is irreversibly affecting the planet and society. Civil engineers hold responsibility to design and construct built-environment spaces that decrease climate changing emissions. The purpose of the research presented in this paper is to assess how undergraduate civil engineering programs contribute to this goal. A cross-sectional comparison between data from a prior national survey of freshmen engineering students interested in civil engineering and pilot data from a national survey to senior undergraduate engineering students was used to assess students’ belief in climate change, their understanding of climate science, and desire to address climate change in their careers. The results indicate that senior undergraduate civil engineering students are more likely to believe that climate change is caused by humans (67%) compared to freshmen engineering students (47%). These seniors are also more likely (73%) to agree that action should be taken to address climate change. Yet, only 37 percent hope to personally address climate change in their careers. Senior civil engineering students are more likely than their peers in other engineering disciplines to take classes that include sustainability and climate change as topics (predominately in engineering electives), yet their knowledge of climate science is no better, and in several instances, worse than their engineering peers. For example, civil engineering students are more likely to agree with the statement, “I believe a cause of global climate change is nuclear power generation,” and “I believe a cause of global climate change is the ozone hole in the upper atmosphere.” Undergraduate education is likely contributing to increased belief and recognition to address climate change but an educational gap still persists in understanding. Future research should explore why misconceptions still exist even when climate change is taught in engineering courses and how particular concepts are explained and how student experiences shape understanding and interest. 
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