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A Collaborative Autoethnographic Dialog Exploring the Soul of Engineering Education

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Education Culture: Mental Health, Inclusion, and the Soul of Our Community

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Hector Enrique Rodriguez-Simmonds Purdue University

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Raised in South Florida, born in Mexico. Half Colombian and half Mexican; proud MexiColombian. Héctor acquired an MS in Computer Engineering and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Engineering Education, both from Purdue University. In his research he investigates the experiences of LGBTQ+ students in engineering, tapping into critical methodologies and methods for conducting and analyzing research, and exploring embodied cognition.

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Avneet Hira Boston College

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Dr. Avneet Hira is an Assistant Professor in the Human-Centered Engineering Program at Boston College. She received her PhD in Engineering Education and MS in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University, and BE in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College. Her scholarship is motivated by the fundamental question of how engineering and technology can support people in living well in an increasingly engineered world. Her research focuses on affordances of technology, humanistic design, and engineering epistemology to promote purpose and connection in engineering education. In her work, she partners with students and educators (middle school to undergraduate), youth and their families, community organizations, artisans, makers, designers, and technologists. Currently, she is part of a team setting up the Human-Centered Engineering program at Boston College. 

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Engineering Education is an evolving field whose boundaries have been redefined for at least the last three decades (Borrego & Bernhard, 2011; Colloquies, 2006; Jesiek, Newswander, & Borrego, 2009; National Research Council Board on Engineering Education, 1995). As a rich, invigorating, interdisciplinary body of scholarship we have noticed attributes that we consider powerful and central to our experience as junior scholars in the field. As we traversed through our Engineering Education pathways, we found ourselves positioned to add to the ongoing dialogue of what the field comprises. In this paper, we articulate, and draw attention to our experience of the field as we have been exposed to, interrogated with, and constructively become a part of it. We articulate our conception of “the soul” of engineering education by means of collaborative autoethnographic dialogue. We use the metaphor of the soul to narrate our experiences in the field, a majority of which include experiences we shared being in the same engineering education research program. The metaphor of the soul serves as a vehicle to communicate our experiences, conceptions, hopes, fears, and aspirations. The soul is as much an idea felt, as it is a scholarship known through inquiry. This essence moves across individuals in our department. It fuels continuous evolution by creating tension and using it as energy to find purpose in our work.

In three different, but related dialogues, we use the metaphor of sitting with tension as we hold a paradox together (Palmer, 1998). We invoke Palmer’s practice of sitting in tension with paradoxes because it helps conceptualize engineering education, which in itself represents the paradox between various paradigms of knowledge. Our discussions in this paper are informed by our ontology or sense of being. Such explorations in ontology are not traditional to engineering. We bring in this construct from the liberal arts because of the lack of such a device in engineering scholarship. We discuss: our conception of the soul of engineering education; the values the soul has brought to our academic journeys; and forward-looking speculation of the soul. In the first dialogue, we discuss what the soul of engineering education means to us by describing the tensions between clarity and dissonance, surrender and rebellion, and social and technical. In the second dialogue, reflecting upon the values we believe the soul has brought to our academic journeys, we discuss the tension between camaraderie and self-authorship, integration and separation, and conforming and contradicting. In the third dialogue, we explore the future of the soul and question it by exploring tensions between humanist and utilitarian values, inquiring and accepting, and innovating and reproducing.

As we write this paper our intention is to prompt reflection from the Engineering Education community by sharing our experience so that members continue to interrogate their scholarship as they intentionally engage in their research and teaching practices. We also hope to be able to provide space to struggle with the tension that the paradoxes of engineering education expose our hearts to, until the soul makes way for the transcendent love that helps make sense of the paradoxes we live in.

References: Borrego, M., & Bernhard, J. (2011). The emergence of engineering education research as an internationally connected field of inquiry. Journal of Engineering Education, 100(1), 14–47. Colloquies. (2006). The Research Agenda for the New Discipline of Engineering Education. Journal of Engineering Education, (October), 259–261. Jesiek, B. K., Newswander, L. K., & Borrego, M. (2009). Engineering education research: discipline, community, or field? Journal of Engineering Education, 98(1), 39–52. National Research Council Board on Engineering Education. (1995). Engineering education: Designing an adaptive system. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Palmer, P. (1998). Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. In The Courage to Teach (pp. 61–88). Jossey-Bass.

Rodriguez-Simmonds, H. E., & Hira, A. (2021, July), A Collaborative Autoethnographic Dialog Exploring the Soul of Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36559

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