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CAREER: Characterizing Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Experiences with Mental Health in Engineering Culture

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Karin Jensen University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Karin Jensen, Ph.D. is a Teaching Associate Professor in bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include student mental health and wellness, engineering student career pathways, and engagement of engineering faculty in engineering education research. She was awarded a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for her research on undergraduate mental health in engineering programs. Before joining UIUC she completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Sanofi Oncology in Cambridge, MA. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Virginia.

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Eileen Johnson University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Eileen Johnson received her bachelor’s and MS in bioengineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She previously worked in tissue engineering and genetic engineering throughout her education. During her undergraduate career, she worked with Dr. Brendan Harley developing biomaterial implants for craniomaxillofacial defects and injuries. In graduate school, she worked with Dr. Pablo Perez-Pinera working on new genetic engineering tools. There, she became interested in engineering education after helping develop and teach an online only laboratory class. She currently works as a research associate under Dr. Karin Jensen with a focus on engineering student mental health, retention, and development of resources.

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Joseph Mirabelli University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Joseph Mirabelli is an Educational Psychology graduate student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a focus in Engineering Education. His work focuses on mentorship, mental health, and retention for STEM students and faculty. He was awarded the 2020 NAGAP Gold Award for Graduate Education Research to study engineering faculty perceptions of graduate student well-being and attrition. Before studying education at UIUC, Joseph earned an MS degree in Physics from Indiana University in Bloomington and a BS in Engineering Physics at UIUC.

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Sara Vohra

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Sara Vohra is an undergraduate studying Bioengineering with a minor in Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her interests lie in education as well as medicine with a future career goal as a physician.

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Undergraduate engineering student mental health is an urgent concern for the engineering education community. Mental health concerns for students are increasing in prevalence and severity in recent years, and early research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated this crisis [1]. Additionally, some research has indicated that engineering students who experience mental health challenges are less likely to seek help for mental health concerns [2]. Our previous research has described a culture of high stress in engineering, where high stress levels and poor mental health is expected or deemed as necessary for success by undergraduate students. The goal of this project is to further understand undergraduate engineering students’ experience with mental health during their undergraduate degree programs in order to develop and improve proactive trainings, policies, and interventions that support undergraduate engineering student mental health. Towards this goal, our project seeks to answer the overarching research question, How can we dismantle a culture of high stress in engineering and instead foster a culture that promotes wellbeing? In order to best understand students’ experiences with mental health, we sought to develop new measures that characterize students’ experience with stressors in engineering and perceptions of norms around mental health and self-care. To accomplish this, we created and tested a novel survey that will be used in a longitudinal data collection with undergraduate engineering students. This paper will describe our preliminary data collection and analysis with the newly developed survey items. In our previous work, we developed novel survey items that were refined through cognitive interviews with engineering students. The new survey was administered to undergraduate engineering students at a large, public engineering college in the Midwest. A total of 624 responses were collected, providing a mostly representative population with a slight overrepresentation of female students. Exploratory factor analysis was performed to identify subscales based on the survey results. Our analysis identified 10 latent factors with the new items. The dataset is being analyzed to identify differences in subscales by demographic groups and to identify themes in the open response section of the survey. Future work will include combining the novel survey items with existing measures of mental health and intention to remain in engineering over a four-year data collection period. References [1] A. Danowitz and K. Beddoes, "Effects of COVID-19 on Engineering Students’ Baseline Stress," in Proceedings of the AAEE2020 Conference, 2020. [2] S. K. Lipson, S. Zhou, B. Wagner III, K. Beck, and D. Eisenberg, "Major differences: Variations in undergraduate and graduate student mental health and treatment utilization across academic disciplines," Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, vol. 30, pp. 23-41, 2016.

Jensen, K., & Johnson, E., & Mirabelli, J., & Vohra, S. (2022, August), CAREER: Characterizing Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Experiences with Mental Health in Engineering Culture Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41926

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