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Bridging Internationalization and Equity Initiatives in Engineering Education

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 7 - Paper 5: Bridging Internationalization and Equity Initiatives in Engineering Education

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Robert S Emmett Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Emmett serves as Assistant Director for Global Engagement in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech and focuses on intercultural skills, connecting classroom learning with sustainable community development, and online engineering education. He is the author of Cultivating Environmental Justice: A Literary History of US Garden Writing (University of Massachusetts Press, 2016) and with David E. Nye, Environmental Humanities: A Critical Introduction (MIT Press, 2017). With Gregg Mitman and Marco Armiero, he edited the collection of critical reflections and works of art, Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene (University of Chicago, 2018). His humanities scholarship has appeared in the journals Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Environmental Humanities, Resilience and elsewhere

From 2013-2015, Dr. Emmett served as Director of Academic Programs at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich, Germany. He has taught humanities courses in interdisciplinary programs at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. He holds a Ph.D. in English (University of Wisconsin) and is a certified Project Management Professional.

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Kim Lester Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Lester serves as the Director of Pre-College Programs at Virginia Tech's Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity focusing on outreach and recruiting underserved students into STEM fields. She also worked as a global engagement specialist in the Office of Global Engineering Engagement and Research at Virginia Tech, providing assistance with the development, implementation and administrative support of international initiatives at the College of Engineering. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Cornell University as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the College of Santa Fe.

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Glenda R. Scales Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Dr. Glenda Scales serves as both Associate Dean for Global Engagement and Chief Technology Officer in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. In this dual role she serves as Executive Director of Virginia Tech’s Academy for Global Engineering, as well as the Director of Engineering Online. In 2020, U.S. News and World Report ranked this online graduate program #10 in the nation. Additionally, she provides leadership at the state level and at Virginia Tech for Cardinal Education. This state-wide distance learning program has a long history of providing engineers with access to exceptional graduate degree programs.
Dr. Scales was the administrative lead in the college of engineering on the high performance computing project that created System X, a homegrown supercomputer. In 2003, System X ranked in the TOP500 list as the third-fastest supercomputer in the world and “the world’s most powerful and cheapest home built supercomputer.” Additionally, she worked with her team and the university to expand Virginia Tech’s wireless network in 2008 with their Tablet PC initiative in order to accommodate large lecture classes using Virginia Tech’s wireless network for in-class learning activities.
She holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, a M.S. in Applied Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins and a B.S. in Computer Science from Old Dominion University. Prior to coming to the College of Engineering in 2000, Dr. Scales was the Director of Instructional and Research Computing at North Carolina A&T where she led a university team to successfully launch their first virtual campus. She began her career working as a computer analyst for the National Security Agency.
In 2018, Dr. Scales was appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to the Southern Regional Education Board for a second term. This board works with 16 member states to improve public education, from prekindergarten through post-secondary education.

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Undergraduate We propose a presentation on current collaborations to bridge internationalization and broadening participation in engineering between our two academic units. As practitioners committed to accessible engineering education that is enriched by our collective diversity and tackles global problems including environmental injustice, health disparities, and digital divides, we have sought to collaborate between our offices of Global Engineering, Engagement and Research (GEER) and the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED). The terms “global” and “diversity” can represent silos of practice and knowledge as well as quite divergent institutional commitments. Our experience of these silos is not an exception. Hip hop activist and intercultural communication theorist Amer F. Ahmed has observed that the institutional separation of global education and diversity and inclusion initiatives at U.S. universities requires deliberate strategic efforts to combine the respective strengths. Fortunately, under the leadership of Dr. Glenda R. Scales and Dr. Bevlee Watford, our units have worked in the last two years to align a common objective in our strategic planning: we seek to enhance diversity in access and participation in global experiences.

Like many public research universities, Virginia Tech has robust campus internationalization initiatives in engineering along with the leadership and mentorship of CEED to enhance and retain a more diverse student body in engineering. Yet, like all but one public HE in Virginia, our institution continues to fall short of representing racial and ethnic diversity across our enrollment, although enrollment of international students has grown over the last two decades. Since at times “global” and “inclusive” can function as code words for opposed institutional priorities, we propose this presentation and facilitated discussion about ways to bridge these areas.

It has been important for us to do this practical work by shifting our paradigm to see common ground between global and equitable learning. For example, study abroad programs have been crafted specifically to support engineering students’ participation, and our colleagues have pursued steps to make these programs more accessible. Still, recruitment of minoritized students into international travel programs for engineering students remains a challenge. Increasing opportunities for global experiences requires more than increasing engineering students’ rate of studying abroad—less than 5% of U.S. students annually, during non-pandemic times.[1] The global dimensions of engineering practice are well documented. As a result, researchers in international engineering education have published studies of effective programs [2]–[4] and proposed principles of global engineering competency [5]–[7], which includes intercultural communication, reflection on professional ethics in a global context, and increasingly, virtual team skills. The existing literature can inform a new paradigm: globalizing engineering curricula to incorporate analysis of cultural difference with an explicit equity framework and analysis of power that reckons with legacies of colonialism and racism.

Global initiatives in engineering education benefit from an explicit commitment to diversity, equity, and social justice. We have sought to make space for conversations about the cross-cutting issues of global problem-solving and social justice in co-curricular spaces. GEER staff and graduate assistants have worked with CEED staff and graduate assistants to offer short global learning activities to prospective students during summer pre-college programs. Another project GEER has undertaken during the pandemic has been to integrate a critical thinking paradigm, the intercultural praxis model of Kathryn Sorrells [8], in a new non-travel course that trains students to think about U.S. engineering in a global context. The course was designed to meet Virginia Tech’s general education requirement around critical thinking about identity and equity in the U.S. Conversations between CEED and GEER staff influenced how the class analyzes power, equity, and identity in engineering practices. The course developed out of informal conversations with and practical outreach with students in the CEED-led living learning communities of Galileo and Hypatia. This summer, GEER is working with CEED to support a virtual campus for over 100 high school girls from the Middle East and Central Asia as part of the TechGirls program funded by the U.S. State Department.

These are few of the practical examples we will present at CoNECD in an interactive session, which will also use a live survey of participants to gauge attitudes and perspectives and an interactive whiteboard to collect concrete examples of how others have briddged internationalization and diversity initiatives in Engineering Education. These interactive methods will support a session that builds collective knowledge in how to connect internationalization and diversity and equity initiatives in engineering education.

[1] “Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange,” Institute of International Education, 2019. [Online]. Available: [2] K. A. Davis and D. B. Knight, “Impact of a global engineering course on student cultural intelligence and cross-cultural communication,” J. Int. Eng. Educ., vol. 1, no. 1, p. Article 4, 2018, doi: 10.23860/jiee.2018.01.01.04. [3] V. Maldonado, L. Castillo, G. Carbajal, and P. Hajela, “Building international experiences into an engineering curriculum – a design project-based approach.,” Eur. J. Eng. Educ., vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 377–390, Jul. 2014. [4] A. Parkinson, “Engineering study abroad programs: Formats, challenges, best practices,” Online J. Glob. Eng. Educ., vol. 2, no. 2, p. 2, 2007. [5] G. L. Downey et al., “The globally competent engineer: Working effectively with people who define problems differently,” J. Eng. Educ., vol. 95, no. 2, pp. 107–122, 2006, doi: 10.1002/j.2168-9830.2006.tb00883.x. [6] B. K. Jesiek, Y. Haller, and J. Thompson, “Developing Globally Competent Engineering Researchers: Outcomes-Based Instructional and Assessment Strategies from the IREE 2010 China Research Abroad Program.,” Adv. Eng. Educ., vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 1–31, 2014. [7] D. B. Knight, K. A. Davis, T. Kinoshita, M. M. Soledad, and J. R. Grohs, “Assessing students’ global and contextual competencies: Three categories of methods used to assess a program with coursework and international modules,” presented at the 2017 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Columbus, OH, Jun. 2017. [8] K. Sorrells, Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice. SAGE Publications, 2015. [Online]. Available:

Emmett, R. S., & Lester, K., & Scales, G. R. (2022, February), Bridging Internationalization and Equity Initiatives in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana.

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