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CAREER: Supporting Undergraduate Mental Health by Building a Culture of Wellness in Engineering

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

7

DOI

10.18260/1-2--36785

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/36785

Download Count

24

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Paper Authors

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Karin Jensen University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0001-9456-5042

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Karin Jensen, Ph.D. is a Teaching Assistant 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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Sara Rose Vohra University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Sara Vohra is an undergraduate studying Bioengineering with a minor in Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a Bioengineering Student Ambassador and passionate about helping her fellow engineering peers. Her interests lie in education as well as medicine with a future career goal as a physician.

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Joseph Francis Mirabelli University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Joseph Mirabelli is an Educational Psychology graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a focus in Engineering Education. His interests are centered around mentorship, mental health, and retention in STEM students and faculty. He was awarded the 2019 NAGAP Graduate Education Gold Research Grant award 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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Andrea J. Kunze University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Andrea Kunze is a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Educational Psychology. Prior to coming to UIUC, she completed a MS in Educational Psychology at NC State University, and a BS in Human Learning and Development at Georgia State University. Her research currently focuses on utilizing qualitative and mixed methodologies to explore people’s perceptions and experiences of the social environment in which they learn or work, and how it impacts their engagement and success.

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Isabel Miller University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Isabel Miller (she/her) is pursuing a MS in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, having received her Bachelors in Bioengineering in 2021 from UIUC. She is interested in student mental health and wellness.

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Thomas Edward Romanchek University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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I am a senior at the University of Illinois and am currently studying towards a Bachelor of Science in Bioengineering and Psychology. I am engaged in engineering education research as a member of the Jensen Lab. My interests lies in developing more wholistic and responsive models of student mental mental by studying both faculty and student perceptions and experiences in their departments.

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Abstract

Despite increasing national awareness, there is minimal research of the “mental health crisis” in undergraduate engineering programs, where some evidence suggests even higher rates of mental health problems compared with other disciplines. Further, little research has endeavored to examine the perceived norms of poor mental health in engineering, nor to understand the factors that influence these perceptions over time. Though culture and perceived norms have critical recruitment and retention implications, no research has examined the role of a high-stress culture, particularly for underrepresented students who may already face a “chilly climate” or “climate of intimidation”. The project CAREER: Supporting Undergraduate Mental Health by Building a Culture of Wellness in Engineering addresses this knowledge gap using a mixed methods design to connect factors within the control of educators to outcomes seemingly out of control (mental health). Our recent research found that students associate high stress and even the development of mental health problems with being an engineering student. We argue that an enhanced understanding of the roots of this culture will enable proactive change, which will ultimately transform the field of engineering education. Using social identity theory as a lens to understand the student experience, this project leverages a mixed methods approach to determine: 1) how students’ perceptions of high-stress culture evolve over time, 2) how educators contribute to the normalization of high-stress culture, and 3) what resources can support students and educators towards fostering a culture of wellness. This summary describes the first phase of our research. Towards our goal of measuring the perceptions of engineering stress culture longitudinally, we have developed new survey items. Sample items include (“High stress is normal for engineering students” and “It is normal for engineering students to stay up all night working”) and responses will be measured on a Likert scale in accordance with agreement with the statement. In the first step of validating these new survey items, our team is conducting cognitive interviews with 10 engineering students to refine the items. Future work will leverage a pilot survey of an estimated 600 undergraduate engineering students. The data collected from the pilot study will be analyzed using exploratory factor analysis to identify latent factors and refine survey items. The newly developed survey items will be combined with measures of mental health, intention to remain in engineering, and perceptions of inclusion in a four-year longitudinal study. The results of the proposed study will provide insight into the social factors and “hidden curriculum” that influence student perceptions of engineering and ultimately the student experience. Moreover, the results of the proposed research will illuminate institutional or programmatic factors that develop perceptions of high stress in engineering and contribute to unspoken hazing. Overall, enhancing student well-being in undergraduate engineering programs will improve the public’s perception of engineering careers, attract and retain talented students, and will support broadening participation efforts.

Jensen, K., & Vohra, S. R., & Mirabelli, J. F., & Kunze, A. J., & Miller, I., & Romanchek, T. E. (2021, July), CAREER: Supporting Undergraduate Mental Health by Building a Culture of Wellness in Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36785

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