Asee peer logo

Contextual Social Awareness in Design: Engineering Education as a Catalyst for Change

Download Paper |


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

Empathy and Human-centered Design 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Greses Pérez Stanford University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Greses Pérez is an Afro-Latina engineer, learning scientist and educator. She is a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University in Science Education and Learning Sciences. Her research focuses on the role of language and cognition in engineering and science learning, particularly for Black and Brown students. In addition to her ongoing work on culturally relevant VR education, Greses combines interdisciplinary perspectives and mixed methodologies to investigate issues of diversity and inclusion in engineering. Before coming to Stanford, she was a bilingual educator at low-income elementary schools in Texas. Prior to starting her career in education, Greses was an engineer project manager in the Caribbean. She holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Santo Domingo Technological Institute, a M.Eng. in Civil Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and a M.Ed. in School Leadership from Southern Methodist University. Her work seeks to improve education for students who experience a cultural mismatch between the ways of knowing and speaking in their communities and those in STEM.

visit author page


Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

visit author page

Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education. She is currently co-chair of the newly formed departmental committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

visit author page


Swetha Nittala Stanford University

visit author page

Swetha is currently a Lecturer and a Science and Engineering Education Fellow at the Mechanical Engineering Department, Stanford University. She recently completed her PhD from the School of Engineering Education at Purdue where she focused on identifying and developing leadership and other socio-technical capabilities among engineering students and professionals. She is passionate about improving engineering education and practice and has been working in the areas of innovation, leadership development, diversity, equity, and inclusion, ethics, and, faculty development.

Previously, she also worked for companies including Deloitte, Sprint, ProStem and Credit Suisse, both as an internal and external research consultant focusing on areas of leadership development, performance management, competency development and people analytics. She integrates her research in Engineering Education with prior background in Human Resource Management and Engineering to understand better ways to develop STEM workforce both in universities and companies.

visit author page


Carol B. Muller Stanford University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Carol B. Muller most recently served as Executive Director for Wise Ventures, an initiative in the Office of Faculty Development, Diversity and Engagement at Stanford University, a role which included support and direction for Stanford’s Faculty Women’s Forum, Gabilan Fellows programs, the Inclusion@Stanford cross-campus community of practice, Wise Research Roundtables, and faculty mentoring and advising initiatives (2012-21). She also serves as adjunct lecturer in Mechanical Engineering, where she co-developed the course "Expanding Engineering Limits: Culture, Diversity, and Equity.. A longtime university administrator, educator, and social entrepreneur, Carol’s past experience includes service as Associate Dean for Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, where she co-founded a campus-wide Women in Science Project. She founded and was chief executive of MentorNet, a large-scale online nonprofit global mentoring network advancing diversity in engineering and science (1996-2008). At Stanford, she was consulting associate professor of mechanical engineering between 1998 and 2002, collaborating with faculty and staff to create “New Century Scholars: Teaching, Learning, and Your Academic Career,” a summer workshop designed for new engineering faculty members. A Fellow of the Association for Women in Science, Dr. Muller and her work have been recognized with other national awards, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, and the Anita Borg Social Impact Award. She has authored and presented numerous papers, presentations, and workshops. She earned an A.B. from Dartmouth in philosophy, and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in education administration and policy analysis from Stanford, and continues to build upon research in the design and implementation of programs.

visit author page

Download Paper |


The training of engineers often focuses on technical aspects, relegating the role of broader social issues to secondary considerations. Although disciplinary knowledge is important, engaging in engineering also means participation in and designing for communities of practice. Drawing on sociocultural theories of learning and Contextual Social Awareness in engineering, this study investigates how the hybrid use of technical and social dimensions in engineering frames students’ design considerations at different points in the engineering pathway. Frameworks developed in prior literature on problem scoping in design tasks fall short in capturing changes to social awareness in responses from students. Through this study, we expanded prior frameworks by measuring changes in social awareness through a new binary variable we call Contextual Social Awareness (CSA). This current study further explored the CSA variable by providing a broad description of the types of factors students considered in their design. The results suggest that an expanded conception of engineering beyond the technical leads to an increase in students’ awareness of broader issues in design. Participants asked questions about who benefits from solutions, which types are conceived, and who designed them. The participants also explored the role of these inquiries in creating solutions while keeping the often-competing needs of different groups in mind. Our findings highlight the generative potential of contextualizing the design task by providing opportunities for students to consider both the technical and the social dimensions of their work.

Keywords: Engineering; contextual social awareness; domain analysis; social frames; technical frames

Pérez, G., & Sheppard, S., & Nittala, S., & Muller, C. B. (2021, July), Contextual Social Awareness in Design: Engineering Education as a Catalyst for Change Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36843

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2021 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015