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Broadening The Appeal By Changing The Context Of Engineering Education

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Attracting Young MINDS in Engineering - Part I

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.246.1 - 15.246.9

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Paper Authors

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Laura Bottomley North Carolina State University

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Jerome Lavelle North Carolina State University

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Louis Martin-Vega Saigal

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Broadening the Appeal by Changing the Context of

Engineering Education

The diversity of the engineering student body as well as engineering professional populations has not changed significantly over the past twenty-five years. Although many efforts have been put in place, and have been shown to have a positive effect, the percentages of females and under- represented minorities have not increased significantly. This paper proposes an approach to engineering pedagogy starting in K-12 that presents engineering as a series of connected world challenges rather than a set of disconnected curricular areas. We create a structure to map the standard K-12 course of study to the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century. This framework allows engineering as a discipline to be used as an integrator in the learning of key engineering skills (mathematics, science, humanities, social studies, culture, design, etc.) rather than an add-on topic. Such a framework helps us improve how we talk about engineering among ourselves and to the general public. By expanding the realm of engineering into fundamental engineering skill areas, we are able to improve interest, excitement and pursuit of engineering as a plan of study and career in new ways. This effect is particularly needed among historically under-represented populations in engineering.


In the current engineering environment we are faced with several distinct problems with respect to the future development of our workforce. One is that students graduating from our K-12 school system, although excellent in recall of fact, are not technologically literate in the broadest sense of the term1. (Note, that this does not mean that US students are not technically capable. Technological literacy equips an individual to confront life situations and enables them to identify the technological components of a situation and use technological concepts to make informed decisions. This involves understanding the nature and development of technology and being able to use technological concepts, including those of design and information technology, and to evaluate the results of this use.) Two is that, of the approximately 25% of students who go to college, only a small percentage of them are considering engineering. According to Al Soyster at the National Science Foundation, 6% of recent SAT test takers indicated an engineering preference. Three is that, of those students who do consider engineering, the percentage of underrepresented minority and female students has not changed significantly over the past 25 years, despite massive efforts to change those numbers.

For these, and many other reasons, a paradigm shift is needed in how we represent engineering to our potential students, their parents and their teachers. A recent National Academy of Engineering report, Changing the Conversation 2, enumerates several suggestions for redirecting

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