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African-American High School Students' Human-Centered Approach to Design

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Engaging Minority Pre-College and Transfer Students in Engineering

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.146.1 - 24.146.23



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Paper Authors


Stacie LeSure Utah State University

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Stacie is a PhD candidate in Engineering Education at Utah State University. Stacie has a BS in Physics from Spelman College and a MS in Materials Science and Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Stacie’s current research interests include the integration of Human-Centered Design and Service Learning opportunities to recruit and retain underrepresented students in engineering. She is also interested in developing intervention strategies to reduce the negative consequences of Stereotype Threat which may be contributing to the lack of persistence of female and minority students in engineering education.

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Nathan Mentzer Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Nathan Mentzer is an assistant professor in the College of Technology with a joint appointment in the College of Education at Purdue University. He prepares Engineering/Technology candidates for teacher licensure. Dr. Mentzer’s educational efforts in pedagogical content knowledge are guided by a research theme centered in student learning of engineering design thinking on the secondary level. Nathan was a former middle and high school technology educator in Montana prior to pursuing a doctoral degree. He was a National Center for Engineering and Technology Education (NCETE) Fellow at Utah State University while pursuing a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. After graduation he completed a one year appointment with the Center as a postdoctoral researcher.

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Kurt Henry Becker Utah State University - Engineering Education

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Kurt Becker is a Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Utah State University and the current director for the Center for Engineering Education Research (CEER) which examines innovative and effective engineering education practices as well as classroom technologies that advance learning and teaching in engineering. He is also working on a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project exploring engineering design knowing and thinking as an innovation in STEM learning. His areas of research include engineering design thinking, adult learning cognition, engineering education professional development and technical training. He has extensive international experience working on technical training and engineering projects funded by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and U.S. Department of Labor, USAID. Countries where he has worked include Armenia, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Indonesia, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, and Thailand. He is currently a consultant on a USAID-funded project that involves workforce development and enterprise competitiveness. He received his PhD from Texas A&M University in 1988 and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the engineering education department.

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African American High School Students’ Human-Centered Approach to Design Stacie L. Gregory Ph.D. Candidate in Engineering Education at Utah State UniversityIn engineering education, service learning is gaining momentum not only as a promising pedagogicalapproach, but also as an effective tool to increase recruitment and retention, especially amongunderrepresented populations (Baillie, Pawley & Riley, 2012). Howard University disclosed that amajor reason their students site for leaving engineering is “lack of civic engagement” (Fleming,Engerman, & Williams, 2006). Survey results from SLICE (Service-Learning Integrated throughoutthe College of Engineering) revealed that female and non-Caucasians ranked “helping others” as aprimary motivation to study engineering (Barrington & Duffy, 2007). At Purdue University’s EPICSHigh (Engineering Projects in Community Service), the student demographics is forty-four percentfemale and sixty-one percent underrepresented minorities ( Human Centered Design (HCD) with service learning may present a reciprocal relationshipas students gain valuable learning experiences while the needs of the community are met. HCD drivesthe approaches that meet human needs with innovative solutions that work in specific cultural andeconomic contexts. Students knowledgeable of HCD are equipped with the essential skills for theEngineer of 2020 (National Academy of Engineering, 2004). In addition to having a competitiveadvantage in a global workforce, engineers skilled in HCD are empowered to address the GrandChallenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering.Coupling the formal training of human centered design with service learning activities may proveinvaluable in recruiting and retaining African Americans in engineering. Developing curriculum toteach human-centered design in ways that appeal to African American students requires anunderstanding of how these students naturally approach design from a human-centered perspective.This research investigates how African-American high school students apply HCD thinking to open-ended design. Using a mixed-method approach, quantitative and qualitative data is triangulated toassess how frequently students contemplate the desires and requirements of the user.Data used for this study were gathered as part of a larger NSF funded DRK12 study titled, “ExploringEngineering Design Knowing and Thinking as an Innovation in STEM Learning” (Becker and Mentzer(2011 & 2012). High School participants from four states were asked to think out loud during a threehour Playground Design Challenge (Atman et al. 1999) which was video and audio recorded.This current work includes analysis of the following artifacts: video/audio recordings; paper-basedartifacts of students design work captured on paper; and follow-up interviews. The total time theparticipants dedicated to the challenge was also included as part of the data collected. Transcribed dataand student sketches were coded into four coding categories. (1) Information Requests; (2)Constraints; (3) Playground Safety Guidelines; and (4) Context-of-use.Data analysis suggests a connection between the extent the user was considered during the designprocess and student ethnicity. The number of transcribed statements focusing on the user is higher forAfrican American students. These students more frequently request demographics and handicappedaccessibility information and account more often for safety and handicapped accessibility constraints.

LeSure, S., & Mentzer, N., & Becker, K. H. (2014, June), African-American High School Students' Human-Centered Approach to Design Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20037

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