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Comparing Wellbeing Indicators, Perception of Stress, Competition, and Achievement Between Undergraduate Engineering, Other STEM, and Non-STEM Majors

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Student Engagement, Socioemotional Needs, and Social Support During Pandemic

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Educational Research and Methods

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Matilde Luz Sanchez-Pena University at Buffalo

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Matilde Sanchez-Pena is an Assistant Professor in engineering education at University at Buffalo - SUNY. Her current research areas include (a) advancing institutional diversity, (b) cultures of health in engineering education, and (c) data analysis skills of engineers. She aims to promote a more equitable engineering field in which students of all backgrounds can acquire the knowledge and skills to achieve their goals. She achieved her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Before engaging in Engineering Education research, she completed graduate degrees in Industrial Engineering and Statistics and contributed to a wide range of research areas including genetic disorders, manufacturing optimization, cancer biomarker detection, and the evaluation of social programs. Dr. Sanchez-Pena is passionate about teaching engineering students and First-Year Engineering students in particular, from whom she draws inspiration because of their energy and creativity. She takes as her mission to foster such traits and support their holistic development, so they can find their unique engineering path and enact positive change.

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Chloe Otis Purdue University, West Lafayette

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The mental health crisis faced by colleges and universities across the U.S. has unveiled the need to understand more about the elements of the college experience that might be contributing to the detriment of students' mental health. While the demands of a college degree are high despite the selected major, there are elements in the student experiences in particular majors that might make things more complicated. In the case of engineering, it has been argued that the assumption of the rigor and prestige involved in the pursuit of an engineering major imposes additional pressures related to competition and achievement, which could reflect in poorer mental health. Furthermore, such pressures might be heightened for underrepresented groups that keep facing cumulative challenges while pursuing an engineering degree. While some recent work has explored stress and mental health indicators of engineering undergraduates, comparisons of such indicators across disciplines are scarce. This study examines the differences in wellbeing indicators, perceptions of stress, competition, and achievement between undergraduates in engineering, non-engineering STEM, and non-STEM majors. Using data from the Healthy Minds Study for the academic year 2019-2020 under the framing of social identity theory, we found no difference in the weighted means of students' positive mental health outlook, also known as flourishing. There were some significant differences in depression and anxiety scores, which indicated lower scores among engineering students when compared to other groups. Furthermore, a lower sense of belonging and identity connectedness was also identified among engineering students at a significant level. These results indicate the need for additional research in understanding the role of belonging and identity in the mental health of engineering undergraduates. A more granular analysis is necessary to disentangle the nuances among the different groups considered and expand our understanding of the cultural elements in engineering education relevant to student mental health and wellbeing.

Sanchez-Pena, M. L., & Otis, C. (2021, July), Comparing Wellbeing Indicators, Perception of Stress, Competition, and Achievement Between Undergraduate Engineering, Other STEM, and Non-STEM Majors Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36819

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