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Broadening the Contexts of Engineering to Broaden Participation: A Multi-method Study of an Interest-based Engineering Challenges Framework

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Pre-College: Perceptions and Attitudes on the Pathway to Engineering (2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Avneet Hira Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Avneet is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research interests include K-12 education and first year engineering in the light of the engineering design process and inclusion of digital fabrication labs into classrooms. Her current work at the FACE lab is on the use of classroom Makerspaces for an interest-based framework of engineering design. She is also interested in cross-cultural work in engineering education to promote access and equity. She is an aerospace engineer and the President of the Student Platform for Engineering Education Development (SPEED).

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Salsabil Mahmed Salah FACElab Purdue, Uprise academy

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I am currently a sophomore in Electrical Engineering. I grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh; one of the most densely populated cities in the world and capital of a third world country. Growing up we had a lot of trouble with power and electricity; never enough. I wanted to solve these problems, find a way to make our system better and more efficient. So i picked electrical engineering. After coming to college, I realized the backbone of engineering was problem-solving but this message was not being clearly passed along. Many students still consider engineering to be just about math and science and don't consider it as a field that works to solve problems and make life easier and efficient, I wanted to know more about engineering education myself as I realized most of us only have a vague idea about what this vast field is.

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Claudia N. Hurt FACElab Purdue


Morgan M. Hynes Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Dr. Morgan Hynes is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University and Director of the FACE Lab research group at Purdue. In his research, Hynes explores the use of engineering to integrate academic subjects in K-12 classrooms. Specific research interests include design metacognition among learners of all ages; the knowledge base for teaching K-12 STEM through engineering; the relationships among the attitudes, beliefs, motivation, cognitive skills, and engineering skills of K-16 engineering learners; and teaching engineering.

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Engineering benefits from people with diverse backgrounds to push existing boundaries and stereotypical perceptions. Irrespective of the social, economic, racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation group an individual belongs to, he or she can make valuable contributions to and can benefit from engineering. Also, every individual should have an opportunity to engage in engineering in ways they find meaningful.

Our work in this paper is encouraged by these humanistic ideals, and a conceptual framework that supports the use of an interest-based framework for engineering challenges. Curricular activities based on this framework provide opportunities for students to engage in engineering by solving problems they find interesting, thus making the activities more inclusive for people with myriad interests.

This paper reports on an engineering activity designed using the aforementioned interest-based framework. The participants of this activity were recruited from a 5-week summer camp focused on positive youth development by engaging students in a number of physical (i.e., swimming, judo, and basketball) and learning (i.e., videography, financial literacy) activities. All students were between 9-14 years of age and qualified for free or reduced lunch. The students participated in an engineering activity designed and delivered by the research team for 40 minutes per day for 9 days. We collected survey, interview, and observation data before, during, and after the activity.

Our findings from before the activity support previous findings related to thing-oriented stereotypes and perceptions of engineering. In our pre-activity surveys and interviews, students with higher recorded thing-orientation scores exhibited a stronger inclination toward engineering, and saw a connection between their personal interests and the nature of engineering. On the contrary, students with higher person-orientation scores exhibited a weaker inclination toward engineering. We reached the above findings using a quantitative instrument used to measure participants’ thing vs. person orientations. We triangulate our findings with qualitative semi-structured interview, and observation data.

Analysis of the deliverables of the activity (i.e., the final prototypes and the student work), make a compelling case for the diversity of interests that can be catered to by engineering activities while still achieving the intended learning outcomes. A content analysis of pictures of the prototypes students created uncovers the different interests that engineering can appeal to. Also, analysis of student work provides empirical evidence for students engaging in engineering design challenges that are interesting to them, and also successfully achieving the intended learning outcomes.

Our post-activity surveys and interviews provide constructive evidence that supports our conceptual framework behind the design of this intervention. Where students from our first group (i.e., thing-oriented and inclined toward engineering) exhibit higher relatedness to engineering, the second group (i.e., person-oriented with weak inclinations toward engineering) show a rise in their inclination towards and the ability to relate their interests to engineering. This work has implications for diversity and inclusion initiatives within engineering, and also innovation as it pushes the boundaries of contexts within engineering.

Hira, A., & Salah, S. M., & Hurt, C. N., & Hynes, M. M. (2017, June), Broadening the Contexts of Engineering to Broaden Participation: A Multi-method Study of an Interest-based Engineering Challenges Framework Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27981

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