Asee peer logo

Design in Context: Where do the Engineers of 2020 Learn this Skill?

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

The Best of Design in Engineering

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.430.1 - 22.430.26



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Betsy Palmer Montana State University

visit author page

Betsy Palmer is an Associate Professor of Adult & Higher Education and Educational Research & Statistics at Montana State University. She conducts research on college student outcomes and university teaching, particularly focused on student epistemology, non-traditional pedagogies, and multicultural education. She also collaborates with engineering colleagues to research educational practices in engineering education. She is currently a Co-PI on the NSF funded Prototyping the Engineer of 2020: A 360-degree Study of Effective Education grant.

visit author page

author page

Patrick T. Terenzini Pennsylvania State University, University Park


Ann F. McKenna Arizona State University, Polytechnic campus

visit author page

Ann McKenna is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University (ASU). Prior to joining ASU she served as a program officer at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Undergraduate Education and was on the faculty of the Segal Design Institute and Department of Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University. Dr. McKenna’s research focuses on understanding the cognitive and social processes of design, design teaching and learning, the role of adaptive expertise in design and innovation, the impact and diffusion of education innovations, and teaching approaches of engineering faculty. Dr. McKenna received her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley.

visit author page


Betty J. Harper Pennsylvania State University, University Park

visit author page

Betty Harper is the director of Student Affairs Research and Assessment at Penn State. Prior to assuming this role, Betty worked in Penn State’s Center for the Study of Higher Education as the Senior Project Associate under Project Directors Lisa R. Lattuca and Patrick T. Terenzini on two NSF-funded studies of engineering education: Prototype to Production and Prototyping the Engineer of 2020. She also worked with colleagues Lisa Lattuca, Patrick Terenzini, and J. Fredericks Volkwein on the Engineering Change study, a national study of the impact of engineering accreditation standards on student learning and engineering programs. Betty completed her Ph.D. in Higher Education at Penn State with a minor in Educational Psychology and graduate certificate in Institutional Research in May 2008. She was the recipient of graduate fellowships from both the Joseph M. Juran Center for Leadership in Quality and the Association for Institutional Research.

visit author page

author page

Dan Merson Pennsylvania State University

Download Paper |


Design in Context: Where do the Engineers of 2020 Learn this Skill?Increasingly, engineers must design engineering solutions that consider environmental,social, economic, historical, global, and political consequences. Examples like the ThreeGorges Dam in China, the development of next generation fusion nuclear power, and OneLaptop per Child illustrate the complexity of current and future engineering projects. TheNational Academy of Engineering argues that the “Engineer of 2020” must not only betechnically capable, but also be able to understand the contextual requirements andconsequences of their work (National Academy of Engineering, 2004, 2006). How canengineering programs best develop their students' ability to integrate context and design?This paper reports results from two national studies, funded by the National ScienceFoundation, which explored educational practices and outcomes at 30 diverse institutions.Prototype to Production: Processes and Conditions for Preparing the Engineer of 2020 (P2P)surveyed faculty members, program chairs, administrators, and undergraduateengineering students at 30 four-year U.S. engineering schools, and Prototyping theEngineer of 2020: A 360-degree Study of Effective Education (P360) developed detailedqualitative case studies of exemplary engineering educational practices at six institutions.We define contextual competence as an engineer's ability to anticipate and understand theconstraints and impacts of social, cultural, environmental, political, and other contexts onengineering solutions. Through the P2P project, students self-reported their level ofcontextual competence based on questions that related to their ability to connect contextsto design solutions. An analysis of where those skills are developed provides interestinginsight into effective educational practices. Engineering curricular emphasis on coreengineering thinking and broad perspectives are related to higher levels of contextualcompetency. Students reported higher contextual competency if their engineering schooloffered an entrepreneurship minor, but not design, leadership, or sustainability minors.Several co-curricular experiences had a positive influence on contextual competence,including being active in an engineering-related non-professional organization (such asNSBE or WISE) or other non-engineering clubs, and participating in humanitarianengineering projects, and other non-engineering service work. Interestingly, being activein engineering-specific organizations and participating in study abroad did not have apositive effect. All of these results are statistically significant after controlling for studentdemographics, academic discipline, and institutional characteristics. Of these areas,curricular emphases on core engineering thinking and broad perspectives had the largesteffect on the development of contextual competence.These quantitative findings correspond to results from the P360 case studies. Interviewswith faculty, administrators and students indicate that design-focused curricula, client-based capstone courses, hands-on laboratory courses, project and problem-based learningactivities, design competitions, undergraduate research programs, and student clubs allcontribute to students' contextual competence (Lattuca, Plumb, Terenzini, & Trautvetter,2010). Curricular practices such as a design-infused curriculum, problem-based learning,service learning opportunities, and credit-granting entrepreneurship/leadershipexperiences also promote contextual competency, as do co-curricular experiences,including involvement in design competitions, student organizations (such as EngineersWithout Borders) and club-based entrepreneurship/leadership experiences.This paper will provide an overview of the results from both studies, providingsuggestions as to how engineering programs can develop the Engineer of 2020's ability toeffectively design in context. ReferencesLattuca, L. R., Plumb, C., Terenzini, P. T., & Trautvetter, L. C. (2010, October 27-30). Panel - Solving engineering problems in context: Preliminary results from case studies of six exemplary engineering programs. Paper presented at the Frontiers in Education Conference: Celebrating 40 Years of Innovation, Washington, DC.National Academy of Engineering. (2004). The engineer of 2020: Visions of engineering in the new century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.National Academy of Engineering. (2006). Educating the engineer of 2020: Adapting engineering education to the new century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Palmer, B., & Terenzini, P. T., & McKenna, A. F., & Harper, B. J., & Merson, D. (2011, June), Design in Context: Where do the Engineers of 2020 Learn this Skill? Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17711

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: © 2011 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