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Better Together: Connecting with Other Disciplines Builds Students' Own Skills and Professional Identity

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Exploring Student Affairs, Identities, and the Professional Persona

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Donna C. Llewellyn Boise State University

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Donna Crystal Llewellyn received her BA (major in Mathematics and minor in Economics) with High Honors from Swarthmore College in 1980. She went on to earn an MS in Operations Research from Stanford University in 1981 and a Ph.D. in Operations Research from Cornell University in 1984. After 30 years at Georgia Tech in a variety of roles, Donna became the Executive Director of the new Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives and Professor in the College of Innovation and Design at Boise State University in January 2015. Donna's current interests center around education issues in general, and in particular on increasing access and success of those traditionally under-represented and/or under-served in STEM higher education.

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Patricia Pyke Boise State University

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Patricia Pyke is the Director of Research Development in the Division of Research and Economic Development at Boise State University. She was the inaugural director of the STEM Central STATION at Boise State.

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Sharon Paterson Boise State University


R. Eric Landrum Boise State University

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R. Eric Landrum is a professor of psychology at Boise State University, receiving his PhD in cognitive psychology from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. His research interests center on the educational conditions that best facilitate student success as well as the use of SoTL strategies to advance the efforts of scientist-educators. He has over 300 professional presentations at conferences and published over 25 books/book chapters, and has published over 75 professional articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. He has worked with over 300 undergraduate research assistants and taught over 13,000 students in 23 years at Boise State.

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Arthur Scarritt Boise State University

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Arthur Scarritt is associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Boise State University. He is primarily interested in how different people reproduce and challenge the multiple forms of inequality within which they are immersed. His earlier work focused on indigenous populations in the Andes and he currently centers on students and higher education.

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Jocelyn B. S. Cullers Boise State University

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Don L. Warner Boise State University

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Interdisciplinary experiences that support development of students’ communication, networking and other professional skills not only equip students with abilities for the future workplace but also foment students’ emerging identities as engineers or other professional roles. This outcome was measured as part of an interdisciplinary Summer Research Community (SRC). This university brought together students from multiple NSF REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) programs and other science, social sciences, and humanities research cohorts to form an interdisciplinary experience.

SRC organizers created a 10-week summer program with eleven explicit goals related to building connections, community, professional identity and communication and research skills. The program consisted of weekly interactive seminars on research-related topics such as societal and ethical dimensions of research, networking, cultural and social events, as well as multidisciplinary living communities for out-of-state students. The SRC researchers, themselves an interdisciplinary team, designed and administered a post-participation survey instrument to assess outcomes related to the specified goals. Two years of survey results, N=40 (of 103 survey recipients) in 2014 and and N=44 (of 151 survey recipients) in 2015 are presented in this paper. This quantitative survey instrument was based on themes that emerged during a qualitative interview study of 2011 and 2012 REUs.

A variety of results in 2014 and 2015 data point to gains in students’ professional identity. Other studies have shown that feeling connected to one’s major increases persistence toward degree attainment. The largest gains in skills, as self-reported by students, were in relation to being able to explain their work to other researchers in and out of their own disciplines, achieving an average of 4.4 (on a 5-point scale). For a survey statement related to professional identity, the average agreement level was 79% of students in 2014 and 68% in 2015 to a statement that linked their SRC experience to their “feel[ing] like a researcher in my discipline.”

The authors also conclude that students placed high value on the interdisciplinary nature of their experiences connecting with students from STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and non-STEM majors. Students gave short answers to questions about what they found most useful and most enjoyable in the SRC program. Analysis of comments showed students placed high value on networking and making connections with people of all disciplines and ages. In conclusion, as the 21st century workplace requires engineers with professional skills who value and can communicate with others, the authors offer a program that can build skills to support students in their college and post-college careers.

Llewellyn, D. C., & Pyke, P., & Paterson, S., & Landrum, R. E., & Scarritt, A., & Cullers, J. B. S., & Warner, D. L. (2016, June), Better Together: Connecting with Other Disciplines Builds Students' Own Skills and Professional Identity Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26381

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