Asee peer logo

Best Paper PIC II: Design in Context: Where do the Engineers of 2020 Learn this Skill?

Download Paper |


2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

NEW THIS YEAR! - ASEE Main Plenary II: Best Paper Recognition & Industry Day Session: Corporate Member Council Speaker

Tagged Topics

ASEE Board of Directors and Corporate Members Council

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.254.1 - 25.254.27

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Betsy Palmer Montana State University

Download Paper |


AC 2011-2129: DESIGN IN CONTEXT: WHERE DO THE ENGINEERSOF 2020 LEARN THIS SKILL?Betsy Palmer, Montana State University Betsy Palmer is an Associate Professor of Adult & Higher Education and Educational Research & Statis- tics at Montana State University. She conducts research on college student outcomes and university teach- ing, particularly focused on student epistemology, non-traditional pedagogies, and multicultural educa- tion. She also collaborates with engineering colleagues to research educational practices in engineering education. She is currently a Co-PI on the NSF funded Prototyping the Engineer of 2020: A 360-degree Study of Effective Education grant.Dr. Patrick T. Terenzini, Pennsylvania State University, University ParkAnn F. McKenna, Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus Ann McKenna is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University (ASU). Prior to joining ASU she served as a program officer at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Undergraduate Education and was on the faculty of the Segal Design Institute and Department of Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. Dr. McKenna’s research focuses on understanding the cognitive and social processes of design, design teaching and learning, the role of adaptive expertise in design and innovation, the impact and diffusion of education innovations, and teaching approaches of engineering faculty. Dr. McKenna received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.Betty J Harper, Pennsylvania State University, University Park Betty Harper is the director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment at Penn State. Prior to assuming this role, Betty worked in Penn State’s Center for the Study of Higher Education as the Senior Project Associate under Project Directors Lisa R. Lattuca and Patrick T. Terenzini on two NSF-funded stud- ies of engineering education: Prototype to Production and Prototyping the Engineer of 2020. She also worked with colleagues Lisa Lattuca, Patrick Terenzini, and J. Fredericks Volkwein on the Engineering Change study, a national study of the impact of engineering accreditation standards on student learning and engineering programs. Betty completed her Ph.D. in Higher Education at Penn State with a minor in Educational Psychology and graduate certificate in Institutional Research in May 2008. She was the recipient of graduate fellowships from both the Joseph M. Juran Center for Leadership in Quality and the Association for Institutional Research.Dan Merson, The Pennsylvania State University c American Society for Engineering Education, 2011 Design in Context: Where do the Engineers of 2020 Learn this Skill?Increasingly, engineers must design engineering solutions that consider the contexts in whichthey are implemented. Examples like China‟s Three Gorges Dam, the development of next-generation fusion nuclear power, and the One Laptop per Child program illustrate thecomplexities and the stakes of current and future engineering projects. The National Academyof Engineering [1, 2] argues that the “Engineer of 2020” must not only be technically capable, butalso be able to understand the contextual requirements and consequences of their work.ABET program accreditation criteria[3] promote contextual engineering practice in several of itsoutcomes criteria [italics added]: (c) an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability (f) an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility (h) the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context (j) a knowledge of contemporary issues.In this research, we define contextual competence as an engineer's ability to anticipate andunderstand the constraints and impacts of social, cultural, environmental, political, and othercontexts on engineering solutions.How can engineering programs best develop their students' ability to integrate context anddesign? This paper reports results from two national studies, funded by the National ScienceFoundation, which are exploring educational practices and outcomes at diverse institutions.Prototype to Production: Processes and Conditions for Preparing the Engineer of 2020 (P2P)surveyed faculty members, students, alumni, program chairs, and associate deans ofundergraduate education at 31 four-year U.S. engineering schools. A companion study,Prototyping the Engineer of 2020: A 360-degree Study of Effective Education (P360), developeddetailed qualitative case studies of the engineering programs at six institutions empiricallyidentified as leaders in producing graduates with at least some of the attributes specified by theNational Academy‟s[1] report as import for the engineer of 2020.Literature ReviewIn describing the importance of integrating liberal and professional studies, Stark and Lowther [4]argued that “The capability to adopt multiple perspectives allows the graduate to comprehend thecomplex interdependence between the profession and society. An enlarged understanding of theworld and the ability to make judgments in light of historical, social, economic scientific, andpolitical realities is demanded of the professional as well as the citizen” (p. 23). In the twodecades since that paper appeared, engineering educators and practitioners have increasinglycome to embrace its principles. Bordogna, Fromm, and Ernst,[5] for example, argue that“contextual understanding capability” is an important component of engineering innovation, andthis growing recognition is reflected in the emphasis reports by the National Academy ofEngineers,[1,2] the National Science Foundation,[6] and the National Research Council[7] place oncontextual competence; in ABET‟s standards for engineering accreditation;[3] and in the growingbody of research literature that explores students‟ contextual understanding and ways toincorporate contextual competence into the engineering curriculum.Despite this increased national attention on contextual competence for engineers, Karnov,Hauser, Olsen, and Girardeau [8] found that engineering students were generally lacking in keyaspects of this skill. Notwithstanding faculty reports of increased curricular emphasis onunderstanding the organizational, cultural, and environmental contexts and constraints ofengineering practice, design, and research, a 2006 study reported that 48 percent of engineeringemployers found recent graduates to be inadequately prepared in these areas [9]. Efforts toremedy this deficiency have identified a number of approaches for integrating contextualcompetence into the curriculum. For example, students‟ immersion in a real-world communitycontext is a key component of Purdue‟s NAE-recognized Engineering Projects in CommunityService (EPICS) [10], which involves students in long-term, real-world design projects. Similarly,evidence indicates that Smith College‟s TOYtech project [11], in which students are tasked withdesigning toys that introduce children to the principles of technology, helps develop students‟recognition of the importance of working well in teams and considering the societal impact ofengineering practice.The framework for conceptualizing contextual competence, and which underlies the P2P andP360 studies, rests on the proposition that, while solutions to engineering problems must first betechnically sound (e.g., the bridge should not fall), solutions must also be practically feasible anddesirable in the light of contextual constraints on the problem. When considering which of theseconstraints to address, engineers need to also determine the scope of the potential impacts oftheir solution. What kind of consequences will their solution have, for example, on the local,national, and/or global level? Some constraints may overlap, while others may supersede others(i.e., the local economic needs of the community may have to be reconciled with the solution‟seffect on the global environment). Thus, in studying contextual competence, we hypothesize twosets of “contextual” constraints: 1) a potential design solution‟s scope (local, national, andglobal), and 2) the potential constraints to which the solution may require attention (historical,social, economic, environmental, political, cultural, and ethical). In engineering, contextualcompetence will interact with the technical constraints and vice-versa. Further, we posit that apractitioner‟s contextual competence will influence two components of engineering problem-solving: 1) the process (e.g., being able to work with a diverse team), and 2) the solution.MethodsQuantitative Survey Methods. The Prototype to Production study (P2P) utilizes a cross-sectional survey design to assess engineering education programs and outcomes at 31 four-yearU.S. institutions. The study team implemented a disproportional, stratified random samplingplan to provide a nationally representative sample of four-year engineering programs that offertwo or more ABET-accredited programs in six engineering disciplines (biomedical/bioengineering, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, and mechanical). All faculty members,program chairs, and sophomore, junior and senior students at participating institutions wereinvited to participate in web-based surveys. The student surveys solicited respondents‟background and demographic characteristics, self-assessments of selected learning outcomes,and future career plans. The survey also queried students‟ perceptions of classroom practices,out-of-class interactions with faculty, and extracurricular experiences. Chairs were askedquestions about their curriculum, educational support programs, and promotion and tenurepractices. Faculty members responded to questions (similar to those posed to chairs) about theirprograms. Faculty members also reported on the emphasis they give to the attributes specified inthe National Academy‟s “E2020” report, the teaching practices they employ in a course theyteach regularly, and on their level of agreement with the goals of the NAE report. Associatedeans of undergraduate engineering responded to questions relating to their college/school‟spractices and policies as they align (or fail to align) with the recommendations of the NAEreport.The analyses reported in this paper used data from the student survey, supplemented withinstitutional characteristics obtained from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System(IPEDS), and academic minors/certificate data collected from the associate deans. Of the 32,737students invited to participate in the survey, 5,249 (16%) responded. Such a low response rate(by historical standards), however, is not uncommon. Survey response rates have been in declinefor several decades [12-15] and web-based surveys often have relatively low response rates [16,17] .Weights to adjust for response bias (at the campus level) and for differences in institutionalresponse rates were applied, resulting in a nationally representative sample of students withrespect to sex, race/ethnicity, class year, and engineering discipline. Missing student data wereimputed using the Expectation-Maximization (EM) algorithm of the Statistical Package for theSocial Sciences (SPSS) software (v.18). Twenty-nine associate deans for undergraduateeducation (or the equivalent) from the 31 participating institutions returned surveys.Using the data collected from each group, the research team constructed scales that measurevarious curricular emphases, classroom and program experiences, and attitudes about education.Factor analytic techniques identified the number of latent constructs underlying sets of items inorder to reduce the number of items necessary to adequately measure those constructs and toassess each factor‟s meaning. [18, 19] Principal axis factoring and direct oblimin oblique rotationwith Kaiser normalization were used to identify factors. Principle axis factoring was chosen inorder to establish the existence of the underlying theoretical constructs [18-20]. Oblimin obliquerotation was selected in the knowledge that any resulting factors may be correlated. [18]Examination of the factor correlation matrix to assess the level of correlation among the factorsand the justification for their independent existence [21] indicated no serious problems.Scales included only items with rotated factor loadings greater than .40. In the literature on factoranalysis the minimum acceptable factor loading required to retain an item varies fromapproximately 0.4 to 0.7. [19, 21] Because an oblique rotation assumed that factors may becorrelated, some items may load above .40 on multiple factors. In those instances, items wereassigned to a factor based on the magnitude of the loading, the effect of keeping/discarding theitem on the scale‟s internal consistency (alpha) reliability (see below), and on professionaljudgment. In some instances, items loading above .40 on more than one factor were discarded.Cronbach‟s alpha [22] is the most widely used measure of the internal consistency of a scale [23, 24].Acceptable values for alpha vary from approximately 0.6 to over 0.9, with the most generallyacceptable minimum value in social science research being either 0.7 or 0.8 – a standard met byeach of the scales used in this analysis[18, 23, 25, 26]. Factor scale scores [27] were formed bysumming individuals‟ responses on the component items of a scale and then dividing by thenumber of items in the scale. Properties of the scales used in this analysis are given in Table 1.Table 1: Descriptive Statistics of Scale Variables. DEPENDENT VARIABLE Mean Std. Dev. Contextual Competence1 (Alpha = .91) Knowledge of contexts (social, political, economic, cultural, 3.33 0.97 environmental, ethical, etc.) that might affect the solution to an engineering problem Knowledge of the connections between technological solutions and 3.32 0.99 their implications for the society or groups they are intended to benefit Ability to use what you know about different cultures, social values, or 3.19 1.08 political systems in developing engineering solutions Ability to recognize how different contexts can change a solution 3.45 0.96 INDEPENDENT VARIABLES Program Emphases on Core Engineering Thinking2 (Alpha = .85) Generating and evaluating ideas about how to solve an engineering 3.80 0.89 problem Defining a design problem 3.78 0.93 Emerging engineering technologies 3.50 1.04 Creativity and innovation 3.72 1.03 How theories are used in engineering practice 3.72 1.00 Program Emphases on Broad and Systems Perspectives2 (Alpha = .84) Understanding how non-engineering fields can help solve engineering 2.61 1.05 problems Applying knowledge from other fields to solve an engineering 2.86 1.06 problem Understanding how an engineering solution can be shaped by environ., 3.00 1.07 cultural, econ., and other considerations Systems thinking 3.23 1.07 Program Emphases on Professional Skills2 (Alpha = .88) Leadership skills 3.33 1.09 Working effectively in teams 4.02 0.89 Professional skills (knowing codes and standards, being on time, 3.59 1.12 meeting deadlines, etc.) Written and oral communication skills 3.74 0.92 Project management skills (budgeting, monitoring progress, managing 3.32 1.06 people, etc.) Program Emphases on Professional Values2 (Alpha = .82) Examining my beliefs and values and how they affect my ethical 2.62 1.15 decisions Ethical issues in engineering practice 2.99 1.12 The value of gender, racial/ethnic, or cultural diversity in engineering 2.54 1.15 Current workforce and economic trends (outsourcing) 3.15 1.10 The importance of life-long learning 3.67 1.021 Question stem for items in scale from student survey: “Please rate your…”2 Question stem for items in scale from student survey: “How much have the courses you‟ve taken in your engineering program emphasized…”We adopted hierarchical (blocked) linear regression procedures for these analyses. With thistechnique, the researcher chooses the number and order of predictors inserted into the regressionmodel. One may “block” or group the predictors based upon a theoretical construct and/or toexamine differences between groups of variables. Given this study‟s interest in which variableshave the greatest effect on students‟ contextual competence, we entered blocks of variables in thefollowing order: 1) student background and institutional characteristics (as control variables), 2)academic minors, 3) co-curricular activities, and 4) curricular emphases. Interpretation of resultsfocused on the amount of variance in the outcome variable explained by the addition of eachblock.Qualitative Case Study Methods. The P360 study, designed as a companion study to thequantitative P2P study, used case study techniques to examine exemplary engineering educationpractices at six four-year U. S. institutions of higher education. Cases were selected based upona) empirical identification (using data from another study) of the institutions “out-performing”others in producing graduates with at least some of the attributes of “the engineer of 2020;” b)number of engineering degrees awarded in selected fields with particular reference to womenand/or underrepresented minority groups and c) input from a national advisory board. Teams ofeducational researchers, engineering faculty members, and doctoral research assistants conductedtwo visits (2-3 days for each visit) to each of the six sites. Extensive document reviews to gatherinformation about each engineering program augmented the interviews of students, faculty, andadministrators at each site. Research teams utilized both one-on-one interviews and focus groupconversations with administrators, faculty and students, as well as (in some instances) directobservation of classes and activities to form a comprehensive, triangulated view of engineeringeducation at each campus. Each team conducted iterative analysis of their cases, and then thefull research project team met to conduct a cross-case analysis. The results summarized belowrepresent a distillation of more extensive and more comprehensive discussions of the activities ateach of the case study institutions.ResultsQUANTITATIVE FINDINGS. Students from our sample self-reported their level of contextualcompetence based on questions reflecting their ability to connect contexts to design solutions.The contextual competence scale consisted of five variables reflecting students‟ assessments oftheir skills in each of the following areas: “use what you know about different cultures, socialvalues, or political systems in developing engineering solutions,” knowing “the contexts (social,political, economic, cultural, environmental, ethical, etc.) that might affect the solution to anengineering problem,” knowing “the connections between technological solutions and theirimplications for the society or groups they are intended to benefit,” and “recognize[ing] howdifferent contexts can change a solution.” Students rated their ability on each item using a 1-5metric, where 1 = “weak/none” and 5 = “excellent.” The aggregated four-item scale, with aninternal reliability (alpha) of 0.91, was the criterion measure in our analyses.Examination of the factors influencing students‟ self-reported contextual competence providesinsights into effective educational practices. We examined the influence of curricular emphases,the minors or certificates available to students, and students‟ co-curricular activities. The fullblocked linear regression model was significant (F(37, 5087) = 49.239, p < .001) and explained 26%of the variance in students‟ contextual competence skills. Graphs of the residuals indicate thatthe model is appropriately specified and that residuals are not related to the other variables in themodel. The results from each of the blocks are given in Table 2.Several findings are noteworthy. Higher levels of contextual competence were related to 1)curricular emphases 2) being active in particular clubs and activities, 3) participating in servicework, and 4) the existence of an entrepreneurship minor or certificate. Of these importantfactors, curricular emphases had the largest influence. Surprisingly, certain variables one mightexpect to be positively related to contextual competence were not. These included curricularemphasis on professional skills, activity in certain engineering-specific organizations, studentdesign projects, study abroad, and the availability of design, leadership, or sustainability minors.We describe these results in detail below.Engineering curricular emphasis on core engineering thinking and broad perspectives are bothpositively related to higher levels of contextual competence. Students enrolled at engineeringschools that offer an entrepreneurship or other type of minor, but not design, leadership, orsustainability minors reported higher levels of contextual competence than their counterparts atinstitutions not offering an entrepreneurship minor. Several co-curricular experiences had apositive influence on contextual competence, including being active in an engineering-relatednon-professional organization related to women or minority students (such as NSBE or WISE) orother non-engineering clubs and activities, participating in humanitarian engineering projects(such as Engineers Without Borders) or other non-engineering service work. Interestingly, beingactive in engineering-specific organizations and participating in study abroad had no effect.All of these results are statistically significant after controlling for students‟ precollegecharacteristics (including various demographic characteristics and high school achievement),institutional characteristics, and engineering major. Students attending doctoral-grantinginstitutions (compared to baccalaureate institutions) and those enrolled at large/medium sizedinstitutions (compared to small ones) report higher levels of contextual competence. Bothfindings suggest that institutional resources and mission may play a part. Majoring in GeneralEngineering (compared those who have not declared a major) was positively related tocontextual competence. None of the other majors significantly influenced the outcome. Menand students from historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups reported higher contextualcompetence than did women and White students. Maternal education was positive andsignificant, but paternal education was not. Scores on the SAT Critical Reading Test were alsopositively and significantly related to level of contextual competence, although math scores werenot. Finally, both age and class standing positively affected contextual competence. Because thetwo variables are correlated, but not highly (0.28), we included them both as controls, thestatistical significance of class standing (independent of age) strongly suggest that students gainin their level of contextual competence as they proceed through their programs. Finally, transferstudents reported higher levels of contextual competence than non-transfers, even after takinginto account age and class standing.Table 2: Blocked Regression Results (n = 5,124) Block 1: Block 2: Block 3: Block 4: Individual & Availability Student Co- Curricular Institutional of Academic Curricular Emphases Controls Minors Activities β β β β Research institution1 0.121 *** 0.145 *** 0.138 *** 0.100 ** Masters institution1 -0.023 0.012 0.015 0.009 Large institution2 -0.223 *** -0.243 *** -0.223 *** -0.112 *** Medium institution2 -0.171 *** -0.156 *** -0.144 *** -0.060 * Biomedical/bioengineering3 -0.003 -0.011 -0.015 -0.029 Chemical engineering3 -0.040 -0.054 -0.048 -0.035 Civil engineering3 0.013 -0.003 0.005 0.010 Electrical engineering -0.045 -0.059 -0.041 -0.033 General engineering3 0.007 -0.015 0.043 0.155 *** Industrial engineering3 0.054 * 0.042 0.043 0.008 Mechanical engineering3 -0.003 -0.022 0.002 0.001 Other engineering3 -0.015 0.003 0.016 0.015 Class standing 0.154 *** 0.149 *** 0.141 *** 0.131 *** Age 0.046 ** 0.056 ** 0.063 *** 0.058 *** Men 0.043 ** 0.042 ** 0.085 *** 0.069 *** Underrepresented ethnicity 0.057 *** 0.060 *** 0.060 *** 0.043 ** Father's education 0.015 0.011 0.002 0.002 Mother's education 0.026 0.028 0.020 0.038 * SAT critical reading score 0.017 0.023 0.021 0.066 ** SAT math score 0.080 *** 0.070 *** 0.079 *** 0.023 Transfer student 0.023 0.024 0.038 * 0.043 **Table 2: ContinuedMinor/certificate in entrepreneurship 0.060 ** 0.058 ** 0.042 *Minor/certificate in design -0.038 * -0.036 * -0.017Minor/certificate in leadership -0.030 -0.049 * 0.000Minor/certificate in sustainability -0.004 0.001 -0.006Minor/certificate – other 0.072 *** 0.082 *** 0.066 ***Active in an engineering club/ student chapter of a professional society 0.048 ** -0.006Active in other engineering- related clubs or programs for women and/or minority students 0.089 *** 0.051 ***Active in other clubs or activities (hobbies, civic or church orgs, student government, etc.) 0.061 *** 0.033 *# of weeks at study abroad/ on an international, school- related tour 0.012 0.014# of weeks on humanitarian engineering projects (Engineers Without Borders, etc.) 0.126 *** 0.140 ***# of weeks doing non- engineering related community service or volunteer work 0.067 *** 0.056 ***# of weeks on student design project(s)/competition(s) beyond class requirements 0.016 0.006Core engineering thinking curricular emphasis 0.110 ***Professional values curricular emphasis -0.017Professional skills curricular emphasis 0.020Broad perspectives curricular emphasis 0.334 ***Adjusted R2 0.070 *** 0.075 *** 0.116 *** 0.258 ***Change in R2 0.005 *** 0.043 *** 0.142 ***Notes. β = Beta, the standardized regression coefficient1. Reference group is Bachelors' Institutions2. Reference group is Small Institutions3. Reference group is Undeclared Majors*p < .05 **p < .01 ***p < .001As noted earlier, the study is also interested in the collective effect of curricular emphases, co-curricular activities, and academic minors on levels of contextual competence, particularly whenother potential influences (such as students‟ precollege characteristics and academicachievement) are accounted for. To estimate the independent effects of each block, the blocks(as noted previously) were entered in the following order: 1) individual and institutionalcharacteristics (as control variables), 2) academic minors, 3) co-curricular activities, and 4)curricular emphases.Analyses indicate that curricular emphases on core engineering thinking and on broadperspectives had the largest (and independent) effect on students‟ contextual competence (deltaR2 = .142), almost twice as much as the control variables (adjusted R2 = .074). The effect of co-curricular activities was almost as large as that of the control variables (.043), whereas thechange in R-square for academic minors was essentially zero (.005). The pattern was similarwhen the curricular and co-curricular blocks were reversed in their order of entry into the model(curricular = .156 and co-curricular = .028). This finding suggests that programmatic emphasison both core and broad engineering-thinking (versus co-curricular engagement) may be amongthe primary venues for promoting students‟ contextual competence. One possible explanation forthis finding might be that, in the curriculum, the importance of contextual competence is specificand explicit, and students may, consequently, give it more attention. On the other hand,engagement in co-curricular activities may offer only serendipitous exposure to this skill area.QUALITITATIVE FINDINGS. These quantitative findings align to some degree with theresults from the P360 qualitative case studies. We first briefly describe unique findings from oursix case study sites: Arizona State University, Harvey Mudd College, Howard University,Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The University of Michigan, and Virginia Tech. We thensummarize across these cases in a brief cross-case analysis.Arizona State University (Tempe and Polytechnic Campuses) is located near the large urbancommunity of Phoenix and has benefited from connections with the many corporations that arelocated nearby. The University‟s (ASU) Fulton Schools of Engineering and particularengineering departments have deliberately enhanced connections with industrial partners. ThePolytechnic campus also worked closely with industry partners as they designed their uniquetechnical degree programs. Industry partners have provided many benefits for ASU and havedemanded a particular focus on contextualizing engineering education. The multitude ofpotential employers in the vicinity also provides full- and part-time work for students. Accordingto one faculty member: The students are going to challenge you on the relevance of things. And [you better] be able to bring real world problems into the classroom. So I think that influences what we are as well. A large part of the student body does have work experiences before they graduate, and so that also brings a practical component to things.Entrepreneurial initiatives within the Fulton Schools include an interdisciplinary curricularprogram, entitled Innovation Space, and the Entrepreneurial Program Office. In September2004, the Fulton Schools created The Entrepreneurial Programs Office to coordinate curriculumat both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The introductory course in entrepreneurshipenrolls more than 100 students per year, and students may also find specialized entrepreneurial-focused classes within their home departments. Innovation Space is a smaller, specializedprogram in which a multidisciplinary team of students from business, design, and engineeringwork together for a year to develop a product prototype. The focus on entrepreneurship at ASUpermeates the entire campus. The Entrepreneurs at ASU web page [28] provides a listing of over50 potential courses and over 30 programs supporting entrepreneurship across the university.Another major goal of the current university administration is to promote both diversity andglobal awareness. While appreciation of diversity and global awareness are often separateobjectives on university campuses, ASU has integrated these two concepts into a singular focus.The demographics of ASU and the surrounding community may contribute to this unique visionof diversity awareness. The global emphasis is exemplified by the creation of the Office forGlobal Engagement within the Fulton Schools of Engineering. The mission of this office [28, 29] isto “structure an integrated and comprehensive portfolio of opportunities, programs, andpartnerships that provide students and faculty the resources needed to become leaders in theglobal and professional arena”. Faculty members are also finding ways to integrate students‟hands-on global design experiences in the curriculum. Currently, several departments offersenior capstone experiences which include a global component. Mechanical/Aerospace, forexample, has developed a senior capstone experience in which students work in multidisciplinarydesign teams with students in Singapore.ASU has also, over many years, created a culture which values and promotes interdisciplinaryventures. The current university president actively supports new organizational structures whichcapitalize on the cutting-edge research made possible by crossing traditional disciplinaryboundaries. In the Fulton Schools of Engineering, both Bioengineering and Sustainability areexcellent examples of how interdisciplinary work is fostered. A new school focused on growthin urban areas combines faculty from Civil and Construction Engineering and offers bothundergraduate and graduate degrees. “The School of Sustainable Engineering and the BuiltEnvironment (SSEBE) was created in July 2009 to provide a nexus within the Fulton Schools ofEngineering for education and research addressing the critical infrastructure needs of our societyin an environmentally sound manner . . .” [30].The ASU Polytechnic Campus has developed specific general engineering degrees with practicalengineering as one of the focal outcomes. The undergraduate curriculum is structured so that,at each level of the curriculum, students work on applied design problems that complement themore theoretical content. Many of these design projects are “contextualized” with an industry,sustainability, and/or global focus. From the beginning, the faculty and administrators at thePolytechnic campus have encouraged industry involvement in planning their unique curricularprograms. One administrator described the process: “So, almost across the college and evenacross the campus, we engaged local industry to the extent that we could in different areas andbrought them in to begin, in our view, kind of a partnership of how we develop differentprograms.”These “practical” engineering experiences are integrated into theoretical concepts. For example,one faculty member described a project which involved multiple classes over a lengthy period oftime. Students first became involved in the project during their first-year engineering core.“We also went and put up a wind instrumentation tower on the Hopi Nation, an Indianreservation. We are doing assessment for them right now as to whether or not they have enoughwind to power their Nation with wind power. [Most] of our freshmen students, our first cohort,went up to install [the project]. We installed the tower, put an instrumentation pack on, get thedata beamed back here, did analysis of the data and you are able to tie it to some degree into yourcourses.” Two years later, students were still retrieving data from this wind energy project to usewithin a statistics course.Harvey Mudd College (HMC) fosters its engineering students‟ contextual competence inthrough at least four mechanisms: 1) the College‟s mission statement, 2) the formal curriculum,3) the co-curriculum, and 4) activities with both curricular and co-curricular elements.The College‟s mission statement specifies that “Harvey Mudd College seeks to educateengineers, scientists, and mathematicians, well versed in all of these areas and in the humanitiesand the social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clearunderstanding of the impact of their work on society” [italics added] [31].Interviews with HMC faculty, students, and staff make clear that this mission statementpermeates the campus culture and provides the philosophical underpinnings for the curriculum,co-curricular activities, and administrative decision-making of the College. Faculty refer to it indiscussions of curriculum review and reform; students allude to it in response to questions abouttheir education and what they are learning; and it guides administrative resource planning andallocation. One wonders on how many other American campuses can faculty and students speakknowingly about their institution‟s mission statement.The mission is nowhere more evident than in the College‟s “one-third, one-third, one-third”curriculum. Engineering (and all HMC) students complete a third of their coursework in “TheCommon Core” (courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and the humanities and socialsciences). The goal is students‟ acquisition of knowledge and techniques across disciplinaryareas and increased understanding of the interdisciplinarity of technical work and its linkageswith society. The second third of the curriculum is in the humanities and social sciences.Students pointed consistently to the value of their humanities and social science courses indeveloping an awareness of the importance of contextual competence, as well as the dispositionand skills needed to think beyond the purely technical aspects in engineering design. The finalthird, the major field-specific portion, mixes theoretical principles and their intensive, hands-onapplication. Students also noted their introduction to contextual issues, ethics, and systems andlife-cycle thinking both early and throughout their coursework.In addition to the Common Core, engineering (and other HMC) students take “Clinic,” thesignature curricular feature of the College‟s engineering program. Clinic is a required, five-semester, experiential-learning capstone course that is essentially an adaptation of medicaleducation‟s clinical experience. Students work in teams on meaningful, industry-specified andsponsored, engineering problems. Each clinic team must address the project‟s contextual aspectsand their implications.The “Integrated Experience” (IE), another key curricular element, is a required one-semester,interdisciplinary, team-taught course specifically intended to promote students‟ understanding ofthe contextual and interdisciplinary dimensions of engineering. IE specifically investigates theinteractions among science, technology, and society. In the view of two engineering facultymembers, failing to consider the economic, social, and political context of a project would be“backwards-thinking.”The mission is also apparent in the pedagogical approaches faculty members use to design anddeliver the curriculum. Clinic is the most conspicuous example of “real-world,” hands-onexperiential learning, but that approach to teaching threads through much of students‟ othercoursework. Students report faculty members‟ frequent reliance on case studies drawn frompersonal experience in industry and on making connections between class topics and contextualand societal issues (e.g., the historical, cultural, economic, and societal impacts of China‟s ThreeGorges Dam; a discussion in a quantum mechanics and relativity course of the ethical,environmental, and societal implications of the development of nuclear energy and the atomicbomb).HMC students also develop their contextual competence in several co-curricular venues. Oneprogram frequently cited in faculty and student interviews is the Nelson Distinguished SpeakerSeries, which brings to campus a wide range of nationally and internationally prominentindividuals to speak on dimensions of a common topic. The 2010-2011 Series theme was“Powering the Planet – Sustainability.” Speakers explored potential solutions to the globalclimate and energy crisis – including a comprehensive look at the future of solar power.Speakers‟ visits include meetings and in-depth discussions with students and faculty members.Students also participate in the student chapters of eight professional engineering andengineering education societies, although one faculty member noted that engineering at HMCrelied less than other schools on the co-curriculum to develop students‟ “soft” skills because thecurriculum, as delivered, promotes those skills.Efforts to stitch a seamless engineering education experience at HMC is visible in a growingnumber of joint curricular and co-curricular venues for developing engineering and scientificcontextual competence and to internationalize the engineering curriculum and students‟experiences. A “Global Clinic” initiative augments the basic clinic model through projectsinvolving Mudd engineering student teams in collaborative projects with student teams frominstitutions in Central and South American, Asia, and Europe. Global Clinic includes basiclanguage instruction, cultural immersion during a three-week visit to the partnering country, andcollaboration between teams throughout the year via audio/video conferencing and team reviewsand presentations at the sponsor‟s site. Other opportunities for students to gain internationalexperience and develop cultural competence include institutional arrangements to supportstudents‟ practice/research-oriented study-abroad, nascent exchange programs with engineeringschools in Japan and Turkey, and student-faculty research projects with international topical orlocational dimensions to them.Howard University is a federally-chartered, historically Black institution, located in Washington,D.C.. Howard University‟s approach to education stresses the creation of leadership within acommunity of people who were historically excluded from many facets of American life; thisapproach is referenced in Howard‟s motto, Veritas et Utilitas, “Truth and Service.” Howard‟score values are: excellence, leadership, service, and truth. Within this mission, the universityprides itself on “building the nation through a culture of excellence in leadership, scholarship,and service” [32].Given Howard‟s history and mission, it is not surprising that leadership is stressed incoursework. In particular, this aspect of contextual competence is predominant even in the wayfaculty approach curricular design. For example, one faculty member states, We continuously try to upgrade and update our curriculum. Basically it is driven by the university vision and then by the college vision, and then our vision. Howard University is about leaders. It is about building or adding to the students who come here, the characteristic of what a leader should be. And not only local, but global for the global community…so that is really, the general starting point for us in our curriculum.The notion of leadership is related to the larger responsibility to society that a Howard student isexpected to contribute. That is, Howard students, through their leadership, are expected to makea “bigger footprint” in the world. Among the engineering faculty, this responsibility and focus onleadership is translated into developing an acute awareness of the context of technologicalchallenges. They have to look at the project and approach the project not just from the technical perspective but they also have to research and discuss the social, economic, the environmental, and other issues that might be part of a really holistic approach to thinking about the project that they were focused on, so I make that a component of their course… and ethical issues, so that comes into play as well.Contextual competence is a dominant theme among the Howard engineering faculty. Forexample one faculty stated: I start off by asking the question, you know, „Just because you can, should you?‟…the leaning tower of Pisa I say „Just because we can fix it, should we?‟…what would happen to the poor politician who comes up with this bright idea, to the economics of the town you know all the money that‟s coming in now because tourist‟s are coming there to…so, whatever design they do for me from that point on they always have to incorporate what I call the „social factors‟ and we‟re not just talking environmental. Usually you‟ll think you‟re talking about environmental when you say social but what about the history of the area? What about the politics of the area?Furthermore, the engineering curriculum embeds a range of contextual issues into the academicexperience for student as a mechanism to enable students to apply and reinforce their knowledge. Mainly they will take stuff directly from class and apply it to this project. So last year I had them work on [how to] make people participate in recycling programs. This year, we were interacting through the computer science department to design human powered devices. So they come up with a bench warmer for sporting events. Someone sits there and pedals, warms up the other people on the bench. There was another person proposing a pitching machine for baseball. So instead of having an electrically powered automated pitching device, you have somebody pedaling, and it throws different pitches.Contextual features are embedded into the learning experience for Howard students in order tonot only prepare students for engineering practice, but also adhere to the overall mission of theinstitution. Context helps motivate students to apply their knowledge in ways that increase thelikelihood they will have the “bigger footprint” and contribute in meaningful ways to society.Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and isknown as a pre-eminent institution of research, teaching, and learning in the sciences andtechnology. As an institution founded to impart applied knowledge, MIT implements educationfrom a laboratory approach, stressing hands-on experimentation. This approach is congruentwith the Institute‟s motto, Mens et Manus – “Mind and Hand.” The mission of MIT is to advanceknowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that willbest serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. MIT is dedicated to providing its studentswith an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery withthe support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community.At MIT, contextual competence and design are often intertwined. Design provides the contextfor learning, and, at the same time, optimal design solutions must take into consideration the“bigger picture” and how contextual factors influence decision-making. The quotes belowillustrate the interwoven and tightly connected MIT mindset of “doing stuff” to “follow one‟spassion” in order to “make a difference” in the world--all features central to MIT‟s approach andto contextual competence. Our analyses suggest that the MIT community sees the value ofproviding context as beneficial in the following five areas:Providing context to help learn the subject matter. One faculty member noted that“When [students] solve engineering problems, they have to use the material that they‟ve learned,and so, the problem becomes the context in which they learn it.” A participant in a student focusgroup explained that: …at MIT they integrate everything. . . For instance, in some mechanical engineering classes, you will actually be working with the biological systems. Like how much torque do your muscles have to put onto your arm in order to lift up so much weight? . . . They teach how everything interacts, you know, how your bones . . . are basically a lattice structure that translate all the forces back into a different direction, and that gives you biological aspects, and then the chemistry aspect and everything is just like, you can talk to a chemistry major perfectly, and you‟ll understand what the hell they are talking about.Providing context to motivate and engage students. As one faculty member, put it: “By workingon projects, you develop self-efficacy because it is by the application of knowledge that you cansee what you‟ve applied and is successful.” Another faculty member estimated that: Ninety percent of the classes are active exercises . . . In other words, we are trying to learn a bunch of things, but we are not doing „make believe.‟ . . . First of all, things that are [students‟] ideas, but that are real products and have chance to have real impact, [are] hugely motivating and confidence building… we are trying to learn, but we are trying to give back, and that is incredibly motivating, actually, in confidence building. And the other key idea is active.Providing context to develop professional skills. An MIT administrator stated: Well, I think the project-based learning, which we‟ve started to call „project-centered learning,‟ . . . [has] started to infiltrate not just the first-year courses but also courses down the line and with again, the idea that you can teach both disciplinary knowledge and broader teamwork skills, communication skills, a whole variety of those kind of things being the context of the problem-based learning and then it models more effectively, more realistically, what goes on for a real engineer.A student in one focus group, commenting on the link between context and other aspects ofengineering, confessed: I just choked „cause I didn‟t look at [the topic] in depth enough. I didn‟t take the time to really plot it in a way that would make sense to me, present the data to myself in a way that made sense. And so that taught me a lot about how an engineer communicates with people to get their point across really effectively. Instead of just trying to get people to do things, it also made me understand just how much responsibility we carry, as people who are building things that the rest of the world is going to use.A faculty member also noted the connectedness of contextual competence and other engineeringskills: “That you have active learning and that you have dual impact learning experiences so youcombine together the learning of engineering science along with other personal and interpersonalskills, teamwork, communications, ethics and so forth.”Providing context to technical solutions. Interviewees indicated clear recognition of the fact thatone needs to take into account social, environmental, global, political, and business factors whenconsidering technical solutions. A faculty member commented: One of the things that we tried to do when we redid our curriculum . . . it seemed to us that the civil engineers who build things ought to understand more about their environmental implications, and the environmental engineers ought to understand sort of the context that was creating environmental problems, and you think, for example, that urban sprawl is an environmental problem, the environmental engineer needs to know enough about what motivates transportation system, or why do people prefer to drive cars than take subways or trains.One faculty member explained an approach to opening a design course: So when I start our version of the design course, one of the very first things we do is talk about the types of information that are required, and we put them into various boxes. There is a technical box, and there is a market box, and there is a profitability and sales box, and there is a safety, environment, community box. So we are trying to have that context – business to community, and things in between all the way through it. Necessarily you spend most of your time, though, worrying how to get a computer program to converge on some result. I hope by making it all the way through and asking about it at the beginning, asking in the middle, asking at the end, that that context is never too far from their mind.Providing context to enable students to be an engineer. A departmental administrator explainedthat MIT tries to: . . . give [students] a set of circumstances and the needs of some customer . . . and then say[s] „Define what this problem is so that person‟s needs are met.‟ That means [students] have got to wrestle with the context of what they are doing. The quality to which they were able to invite and compose a product that meets that, is a measure of their professionalism, and so then we judge it. . . . These are things that I‟m looking for . . . when they graduate. The more that I can tell them about that, in that context, the more that I think they have a chance to go out to the first job and be a little bit ahead.Putting students in the position of thinking like a “real” engineer makes the nuanced connectionbetween contextual context and professionalism. That is, the primary point at MIT is not just toprovide the context for how a particular theory applies to a given application, but rather that thecontext is the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills to make decisions as an engineeror professional.The University of Michigan’s emphasis on helping students develop their contextualcompetence is evident in three general areas: 1) a succession of far-sighted administrative andfaculty leaders in the College of Engineering who recognize the importance of these skills; 2) thecurriculum, particularly its emphasis on international experiences; and 3) the co-curriculum.Interviews with engineering faculty members and administrators indicate that contextualcompetence as an important learning outcome emerged from bi-directional, administrative andfaculty leadership. Over the past 30 years, the College named a series of engineering deans andassociate deans who initiated or sustained administratively skillful “top-down” processes ofcurricular and cultural change. According to one long time veteran faculty member, “[T]heseguys had remarkable visions of not only what engineering was going to become, but how itinteracted with other disciplines, [and] what its role in society should be.” Their ideas foundfertile ground among a few faculty members who responded with “bottom-up” support and awillingness to suggest and lead new programmatic initiatives. The emerging reforms alsoincluded College-wide curricular revisions in the mid-to-late1990s and again in the latter half ofthis decade. These programs and processes drew support from, and played out against a backdropof, similar philosophical and curricular reforms underway at the University and national levels.Several curricular mechanisms at Michigan also contributed to the emergence of contextualcompetence as a valued educational outcome. Curriculum 2000, one of two significantcurriculum review efforts of the past decade, recommended several structural and credit-relatedchanges, including the “systemic treatment of non-program topics,” including communication,the humanities and social sciences, “and other important topics not generally treated in separatecourses”. [33] Although the effects of a second, more recently completed review are not yetknown, the report specifically notes that “Where once we hoped that our graduates wouldanalyze thermodynamic efficiency, now our graduates must also help analyze the ethical andsocial impacts of their technologies”. [34]Three new programs also emerged, each with contextual competence as a core element. Facultyand administrator interviewees noted that these programs grew in part from student interest ininternational experiences and engineering coursework relevant to national and internationaltopics (e.g., alternative energies, the environment). The International Minor is a 16-20 credit-hour program requiring demonstration of foreign language skills; coursework on non-U.S.countries, intercultural communication, and global trends in engineering and business; and apractical international experience through study, work, or volunteer activities abroad. In the 15-credit Multidisciplinary Design Minor, students get hands-on experience designing, building, andtesting technology systems working in interdisciplinary student teams. Its inauguralspecialization is in Global Health Design, which emphasizes an interdisciplinary andcomprehensive design process, experiential learning, intercultural training, and in-depthexposure to a specific global health theme. In the Program in Entrepreneurship, students learnbusiness methods, skills in writing business plans, obtaining venture capital and other funding,intellectual property rights, and identifying market niches that may be domestic or international.The curriculum emphasizes contextual competence early and late in students‟ programs. Onestudent reported that “we talked about [contextual competence and] social issues [in] one . . . [of]my very first engineering classes, „Engineering 100‟ they call it here, and the title of the sectionwas „Engineering Design in the Real World.‟” Other sections of “Engine 100” also addressissues extending beyond the technical, but the focus and emphasis appears to be variable. Somedepartments (e.g., Civil and Environmental Engineering) offer courses which specificallyaddress contextual competence. Students also encounter contextual diversity issues and thinkingin their senior capstone design courses. Interviews suggest, however, that the degree of capstoneprojects‟ emphasis on contextual competence probably varies across departments and projects.The importance of thinking beyond the purely technical elements of a design project, however,arises frequently in interviews with both students and faculty members, though its emphasisappears to be given early and late in students‟ programs.Faculty and students speak frequently of the value of an international experience. According toone faculty member: I can tell when our students have that experience. I can tell in class. . . . I actually don‟t think it matters exactly what it is. You know, it could be that trip to China; it could also be that it‟s a trip to Africa to help a village do [unintelligible] education system, or it could be doing an internship, help getting a company off the ground. . . . [I]f you get them back in class, you know they‟re different.The College h...

Palmer, B. (2012, June), Best Paper PIC II: Design in Context: Where do the Engineers of 2020 Learn this Skill? Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015