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Board 27: Work-in-Progress: Developing Underrepresented Biomedical Engineering Students’ Persistence in a First-Year Introductory Design Course

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Biomedical Engineering Division (BED) Poster Session

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering Division (BED)

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Paper Authors


Janna Jobel University of Massachusetts Lowell

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Dr. Janna Jobel received her PhD in Educational Leadership researching the ways in which social emotional competencies are taught in STEM high schools. She is now a postdoctoral research associate in the Biomedical Engineering department of UMass Lowell conducting interdisciplinary research to better understand what factors most influence the K-20 STEM pipeline.

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Yanfen Li University of Massachusetts Lowell Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Yanfen Li is an Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She received her Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 2018. Dr. Li has extensive experience in engineering education focusing on recruitment and retention of underrepresented and under resourced students and engineering pedagogy. Her work spans the areas of curriculum instruction and design, program design and evaluation, and the first-year college experience.

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Problem Background:

Despite making up half of the general population, women represent less than a quarter of engineering students, faculty, and professionals in industry [1], [2]. This theme of underrepresentation runs across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds in North America. Multiple factors influence this, including, but not limited to, a hostile academic environment, lack of belief in their capabilities, and lack of representative role models [3]. Biomedical Engineering (BME), however, historically attracts significantly more women than other engineering disciplines [4], [5]. Engineering in general though, including BME, still struggles with retaining students, especially underrepresented students, and researchers have been trying to identify which factors are most impactful on student attrition rates. Prior research indicates that interventions developing emotion regulation might have an outsized impact on females and Underrepresented Minority (URM) Students and their ability to persist in engineering [6], [7]. To better understand in what ways emotion regulation could be developed in a BME classroom, this study examines how first-year students experience setbacks and failure in laboratory settings. To better understand what helps students move past setbacks would inform better lab teaching practices to support students’ development of emotion regulation practices.


The study consisted of 59 students in an Introduction to Biomedical Engineering course of first-year students. Students were invited to complete a survey that consisted of: the Performance Failure Appraisal Inventory (PFAI) Modified for use with STEM undergraduates (15 questions) [6]; the Situational Self-Awareness Scale (10 Questions) [8]; the Emotion Regulation Questionnaire (ERQ) (10 Questions) [9], and students were asked 10 questions on faculty and campus resource utilization trends. 50 students responded. In addition to survey data collection, all students were invited via email to participate in an interview series of three sessions. Five students completed the interview series. Of these five, four come from underrepresented populations in STEM fields. Two women and two first-generation college students participated. The first interview session gathered detailed descriptions of their personal experiences of setbacks in lab settings. The second interview session asked students to describe in what ways their professors, Teaching Assistants, and Lab Assistants had responded to their needs in the moment to help them move beyond the setback. The final session focused on what supports students wish were available to them in the future, in an ideal classroom setting.

Preliminary Findings:

Using multiple linear regression of the survey responses demonstrated several correlations. Students who proactively seek out campus resources are more likely to report higher levels of self-awareness and use of emotion-regulation strategies. Findings of thematic analysis of the interview transcriptions demonstrates that students are better able to move beyond a setback in settings where: a) lab assignments are more process-oriented than outcome oriented; b) the purpose of the lab is clearly correlated to lecture content; c) teaching staff are approachable and willing to admit mistakes and confusion; and d) peers work together freely without fear of making mistakes. These findings can be used to better inform pedagogical approaches to lab instruction. Better supporting students when experiencing setbacks can help improve students’ emotion regulation in difficult times, resulting in a greater likelihood of persisting in engineering.

Jobel, J., & Li, Y. (2023, June), Board 27: Work-in-Progress: Developing Underrepresented Biomedical Engineering Students’ Persistence in a First-Year Introductory Design Course Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--42725

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