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A Qualitative Study of Empathy in the Experiences of Students in a First-Year Engineering Service Learning Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Community Engagement Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Adetoun Yeaman Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Adetoun Yeaman is a PhD candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). She received her MS degree in 2013 in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering and her BS degree in Biomedical Engineering in 2011, both from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant. Her research interests include empathy, design education, spatial visualization and multimedia learning.

Address: Virginia Tech Engineering Education (MC 0218) 345 Goodwin Hall, 635 Prices Fork Rd, Blacksburg, VA 24061.

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Diana Bairaktarova Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Diana Bairaktarova is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Through real-world engineering applications, Dr. Bairaktarova’s experiential learning research spans from engineering to psychology to learning sciences, as she uncovers how individual performance is influenced by aptitudes, spatial skills, personal interests and direct manipulation of mechanical objects.

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Kenneth Reid Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Kenneth Reid is an Associate Professor in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He is active in engineering within K-12, serving on the TSA Board of Directors. He and his coauthors were awarded the William Elgin Wickenden award for 2014, recognizing the best paper in the Journal of Engineering Education. He was awarded an IEEE-USA Professional Achievement Award in 2013 for designing the nation's first BS degree in Engineering Education. He was named NETI Faculty Fellow for 2013-2014, and the Herbert F. Alter Chair of Engineering (Ohio Northern University) in 2010. His research interests include success in first-year engineering, engineering in K-12, introducing entrepreneurship into engineering, and international service and engineering. He has written texts in design, general engineering and digital electronics, including the text used by Project Lead the Way.

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Empathy is an important ability for engineers, it allows us to connect with the people we impact as we seek to solve problems, design and innovate. This ability is commonly and casually defined as the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. Several researchers within and outside of the engineering education community have sought to define and suggest practical ways to promote empathy as a valuable social competency for engineering practice. Many scholars assert that service learning and other community engagement pedagogies are a fertile ground for helping students further develop their empathic abilities.

This qualitative study aims at studying an engineering course with an integrated service component, and investigating the role empathy plays in the students’ experiences. Further, supportive features of these experiences will be described. Participants are first-year engineering students in a service learning course at a large land grant institution. This course is required for students who are part of a living learning community for first-year students. Participants are interested in pursuing various engineering disciplines however, they had not declared one during the course.

We utilize a phenomenology study and focus on students’ experiences within the course. Data is collected via semi-structured interviews conducted through online video conferencing. During interviews, several participants mentioned how the nature of their relationships with people they interfaced with on their projects changed, which may suggest that some students correlate pieces of their service experiences in the course with aspects of empathy. The findings from the study could provide some insight on empathy development and the influence of including a service component in a first-year engineering course.

Yeaman, A., & Bairaktarova, D., & Reid, K. (2020, June), A Qualitative Study of Empathy in the Experiences of Students in a First-Year Engineering Service Learning Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34040

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