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Board 52: Exploring Professional Identity Development in Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students Who Experience Disabilities

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Cassandra J. Groen Virginia Tech

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Dr. Cassandra Groen is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Engineering Education and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech. Her primary research interests include professional identity formation in undergraduate civil engineering students, grounded theory methods, and theory development. Her current work includes the exploration of professional identity formation in civil engineering students who experience disabilities and the ways in which this identity is influenced by students’ academic relationships, events, and experiences. Dr. Groen holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa D. McNair is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Research in SEAD Education at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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Denise Rutledge Simmons P.E. Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Denise R. Simmons, Ph.D., PE, LEED-AP, is an assistant professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and an affiliate faculty of the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in civil engineering and a graduate certificate in engineering education – all from Clemson University. She has over 10 years of experience working for energy companies and as a project management consultant. Her research contributes to the advancement of labor and personnel issues in engineering broadly and specifically in the construction industry through two research areas: untangling the complex relationship between activities people become involved in — operationalized as engagement — and the technical and professional outcomes gained — operationalized as competencies. The broader impact of this work lies in achieving and sustaining productive, diverse and inclusive project organizations composed of engaged, competent people. Dr. Simmons’ research is supported by awards from NSF, including a CAREER award. She oversees the Simmons Research Lab (, which is home to a dynamic, interdisciplinary mix of undergraduate and graduate students and a post-doctoral researcher from various colleges and departments at Virginia Tech who work together to explore engineering and construction human centered issues with an emphasis on understanding difference and disparity.

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Ashley Shew Virginia Tech

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Recent calls throughout the engineering education community have focused on increasing diversity and broadening participation in STEM, particularly within the field of engineering. Many of these conversations have been dominated by research examining race and gender, with little if any work addressing disability. Agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the American Institute for Research have begun to implore educators and researchers to include the experiences of disabled students within these conversations to gain a better understanding, meet the needs, and promote the success of this marginalized population. Such work is crucial to broadening participation in engineering, as students with disabilities can experience daily challenges not experienced by their peers without disabilities. Such challenges include the negotiation of physical, cultural, and bureaucratic structures to access necessary resources for academic and workplace success.

In this paper, we introduce a recently-initiated longitudinal, grounded theory exploration of the experiences of civil engineering students with disabilities as they move through their undergraduate careers and into the workforce. To provide context and establish the need for this type of work in engineering education, we discuss prior research that highlights the current state of disability studies, particularly within the engineering education and higher education literature. We then identify the sensitizing concepts underpinning this study and outline our research methods, including data collection and analysis plans. As this project is currently in the initial phase, we conclude with a discussion of challenges encountered and strategies for overcoming those challenges as well as next steps.

Groen, C. J., & McNair, L. D., & Paretti, M. C., & Simmons, D. R., & Shew, A. (2018, June), Board 52: Exploring Professional Identity Development in Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students Who Experience Disabilities Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30052

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