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Designing a New Holistic Engineering Program

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 3 Slot 2 Technical Session 3

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Julia D. Thompson University of San Francisco

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Julia Thompson is an Assistant Professor at University of San Francisco. She has a passion for integrating the soul’s work into the engineering design process and technology. She is driven to help students, and people in general, look at technology as a pathway toward healing of earth and unjust social structure. Julia did her undergrad in chemical engineering at UC Berkeley and her PhD in engineering education at Purdue. Her research interests focus on how engineering design practices impact the relationships that engineering programs create with the community.

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Amalia Kokkinaki University of San Francisco Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Kokkinaki is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Francisco, teaching in the Departments of Environmental Science and Engineering. Her research focuses in the areas of groundwater transport and remediation, environmental modeling and statistical methods for environmental monitoring and characterization. She teaches Environmental Chemistry, Environmental Data Analysis and environmental engineering courses.

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Jes Parker University of California, Berkeley Orcid 16x16


Hana M. Böttger University of San Francisco

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Hana Böttger’s interests lie at the intersection of structural materials engineering and architecture, and she created and has been directing the Architectural Engineering minor program within the Department of Art + Architecture at University of San Francisco. She joined the new Engineering program curriculum development efforts in 2015, became interim director in 2018, and is the first chairperson of the department.

Böttger has been a teacher for 20+ years. In her architecture and engineering courses at USF, she emphasizes low-carbon, environmentally sustainable approaches to designing for the built environment, and especially the effect of these decisions on under-served communities. She doesn’t separate good design from seeking social justice.

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N. Jeremy Kasdin University of San Francisco

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In Fall 2020, the University of San Francisco (USF) launches a new undergraduate Engineering program structured to integrate access, inclusion, and diversity, with specific emphasis on the representation of women and students from underrepresented populations. To do this, the programmatic structure emphasizes asset-based pedagogy, ongoing community engagement, and project-based learning throughout the undergraduate experience.

Program Philosophy (Context) USF is committed to advancing social justice through intentional recruitment, retention, development, and support of diverse students, faculty, staff, and advisory board members. Rooted in the Jesuit approach to education, the Engineering Program exists within USF’s broader culture which embraces a holistic approach to care for the mind, body, and spirit of each community member. Faculty members see it as their responsibility to know students on a personal level, facilitating a student’s self-understanding that includes how their own background (and that of their peers) is part of their engineering toolkit. The goal of education is not only to impart intellectual knowledge or professional skills, but also to provide opportunities for personal formation and reflection, so that students grow as agents of change. We believe that this person-centered approach to program and curriculum design is essential to an Engineering program that is inclusive.This is parallel to the asset-based theory, which recognizes the cultural wealth that diverse student populations contribute to the field.

Practice Development: Design phase and foundational principles

Program structure was created with an explicit commitment to evidence-based approaches in pedagogical research and the personal experiences of successful engineers from underrepresented backgrounds. The curriculum is grounded in asset-based theory and project-based learning. Best practices were adopted from reports such as AAUW’s Solving the Equation and the NAE’s The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century. We held workshops with women and people of color who hold senior leadership and engineering positions. Questions focused on identifying what drew them to engineering and what was essential in helping them to persist and succeed. Faculty also attended a week-long workshop at Olin College aimed to promote project-based learning and transformative engineering education

Key themes that emerged from these experiences included: the importance of mentoring and engineering community development, both during and after graduation; the role of interdisciplinary education in engineering problems; and the value of diverse ways of learning and doing. These inputs shaped a curricular framework that includes four pillars to be integrated across courses: a) Hands-on learning within the context of real-world problems, including project courses in all four years to help students connect theory to application; b) A focus on community-engagement, including a cultural immersion experience after the first year to provide students with an early opportunity to engage directly with communities; c) Building inter-and cross-disciplinary collaboration into student projects; and d) Explicitly conceptualizing students, projects, and teams outside of traditionally represented demographics and stereotypes.

Practice Support: Resources and Representation

Key structural elements were created to support these pillars, including a summer support experience (“Summer Zero”) designed to ensure equitable access to program content and a MakerSpace designed with accessibility in mind. “Summer Zero” establishes early mentorship and community development, scaffolding first year students with resources. The primary goals are to support community bonding and habit-building through workshops, math, writing and a coding project. On its own, this would be a major undertaking. The phenomenon of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased this challenge, exposing many of the underlying social inequities that this program is intended to address, from unequal access to financial aid to the digital divide to housing insecurity.

The Innovation Hive is a hands-on learning space (Makerspace) that is hosted by the Engineering Program and central to the project-based curriculum, while remaining open to any member of the university community. The design process for the Innovation Hive included focus groups with student leaders recommended to program staff by the USF Office of Student Disability Services. Student focus groups discussed equipment use and space layout to consider the range of abilities represented by students on campus.

Additionally, we recognize that a diverse student body requires adequate representation throughout the process of engagement and education. Recruiting materials for the first year were developed to showcase our commitments to inclusivity; the promotional imagery centrally features students of color and non-binary students. Community engagement opportunities and consistent project-based learning create a more human-oriented engineering foundation. It is documented that supporting communities is a common reason for women and people from marginalized back grounds choose engineering. Our initial class is expected to be 44% women, 29% Hispanic, 11% Black, 21% Asian, 14% mixed-race, and 25% white, with all reported underrepresented minorities significantly above the national averages. We recognize, though, that the incoming class demographics is only the first piece of this puzzle. Faculty and staff recruitment is another way student-centered representation matters. Our initial team, composed of existing USF faculty, staff, and administrators is comprised of 47% women and 19% faculty of color from ten different departments and offices across campus. Our three initial faculty hires in Engineering have all been women. Additionally, invitations to our program advisory board have included leaders from diverse backgrounds and fields. Advisory board members represent technology firms, construction management, K-12 MakerSpace education, and government agencies. Board members are committed to supporting the program success as aligned with diversity and inclusion goals in mind.

Process Improvement as Practice

We understand that creating inclusion is a process that is never finished. In addition to the initial program development and recruitment efforts, the university and program are committed to an adaptive process that includes reflection and continuous improvement. Personal and professional development are necessary for faculty, staff, and administration. USF regularly hosts workshops, bringing in scholars in inclusion and equity such as Mica Estrada who presented her work (Spring 2020) evaluating effective retention techniques for students from underrepresented backgrounds. Learning communities are developed regularly, both campus-wide and within the new Engineering Program. Our Innovation Hive Faculty Director will be running a learning community on project-based learning, with conversations around how student engineering projects can support inclusive learning experiences. Additionally, topics such as trauma-informed pedagogy are provided for the university as a whole, and the engineering faculty are committed to learning and engaging in these steps to provide a better Engineering Program and learning environment.

Thompson, J. D., & Kokkinaki, A., & Parker, J., & Böttger, H. M., & Kasdin, N. J. (2021, January), Designing a New Holistic Engineering Program Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36057

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