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Characterization of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts Criteria in NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program Applications

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Graduate Programs, Development, and Research Fellowships

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Catherine G.P. Berdanier Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Catherine G.P. Berdanier holds a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry from The University of South Dakota and her M.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University. Her research interests include graduate-level engineering education, including engineering writing, inter- and multidisciplinary graduate education, innovative and novel graduate education experiences, global learning, and preparation of engineering graduate students for future careers.

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Monica Farmer Cox Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Monica F. Cox, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair in newly created Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. Prior to this appointment, she was a Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, the Inaugural Director of the College of Engineering's Leadership Minor, and the Director of the International Institute of Engineering Education Assessment (i2e2a). In 2013, she became founder and owner of STEMinent LLC, a company focused on STEM education assessment and professional development for stakeholders in K-12 education, higher education, and Corporate America. Her research is focused upon the use of mixed methodologies to explore significant research questions in undergraduate, graduate, and professional engineering education, to integrate concepts from higher education and learning science into engineering education, and to develop and disseminate reliable and valid assessment tools for use across the engineering education continuum.

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This research uses content analysis and discourse analysis methods to study the “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts” criteria described by 50 engineering graduate students in 11 disciplines in their successful applications to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. This research analyzes the characterizations of “intellectual merit” and “broader impacts” within their proposed research across the engineering disciplines as an indicator of disciplinary identity and disciplinary culture. Academic Literacies Theory guides the analysis, which posits that graduate students learn the discourse patterns which are embedded within social (disciplinary) structures of the individual disciplines as they establish their own disciplinary identity. Analysis of the discourse within the research proposals shows what the graduate students identify to be the values and impacts of their discipline, and how they envision their future graduate work fitting into the ideals. Rather than seeking to “define” each discipline, this research provides insight into the trends in emphasis which different disciplines in engineering across the U.S. place on various indicators of merit or impact. Findings related to the distribution of disciplinary values may provide engineering educators more insight on how to best “match” student engineering ideologies with an appropriate discipline.

Berdanier, C. G., & Cox, M. F. (2016, June), Characterization of Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts Criteria in NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program Applications Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26482

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