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Empathy in a Service-Learning Design Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Empathy and Human-Centered Design 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Nusaybah Abu-Mulaweh Purdue University at West Lafayette

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Nusaybah Abu-Mulaweh is a Continuing Lecturer in the Engineering Projects In Community Service (EPICS) Program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. She received her Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Purdue University Fort Wayne, and received her Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. After working as a software engineer in industry, she returned to academia as a lecturer and she is currently pursuing her PhD in Engineering Education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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William C. Oakes Purdue University at West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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William (Bill) Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program, a 150th Anniversary Professor and one of the founding faculty members of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He has held courtesy appointments in Mechanical, Environmental and Ecological Engineering as well as Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. He is a registered professional engineer and on the NSPE board for Professional Engineers in Higher Education. He has been active in ASEE serving in the FPD, CIP and ERM. He is the past chair of the IN/IL section. He is a fellow of the Teaching Academy and listed in the Book of Great Teachers at Purdue University. He was the first engineering faculty member to receive the national Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning. He was a co-recipient of the National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education and the recipient of the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Educational Excellence Award and the ASEE Chester Carlson Award. He is a fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Society of Professional Engineers.

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Paul A. Leidig P.E. Purdue University

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In order to effectively meet the needs of users and avoid errors, engineers need to understand their clients, users and stakeholders. An important part of this process is empathy. By empathizing with their users, engineers design innovative solutions that focus on their needs, discover new product applications, avoid potential future mistakes and save money and resources. The development and skill of empathizing with others, has become a necessity for successful future engineers. With this necessity comes the need to design learning experiences that encourage engineering students’ understanding of their users and stakeholders. Studies have shown an “authentic” experience involving real-world contexts reflecting the work of professionals helps to develop and foster empathy. At a large Midwestern university, a service-learning design program emulates industry practices by having multi-disciplinary teams of students partner with community organizations and work with them to address their needs and solve real-world problems. Therefore, this program provides authentic experiences in which students can potentially develop empathy. In previous research on the program’s design process, findings relating how students perceive the human aspect of engineering design and how they empathize correlated with their relationship with their team’s community partner. This study takes the research further to understand what factors specifically contribute to the manifestation of empathy in students working on service-learning design projects with community partners. This exploratory study will report on analyzed and coded weekly reflections of different teams of students to understand how empathy is manifested based on the differences in proximity and relationship with their team’s community partner. This analysis is based on the Jean Decety and Yoshiya Moriguchi model of empathy that categorizes empathy into four components: affective sharing, self-awareness, mental flexibility, and emotion regulation. Findings show clear benefits from regular interaction with the partners and differences between students regardless whether or not students meet with community partner in person. This is important because by understanding how relationships with community partners help manifest empathy in students, we, as instructors, can better guide them in their service-learning experiences to optimize their empathy development and therefore, develop effective engineering designers.

Abu-Mulaweh, N., & Oakes, W. C., & Leidig, P. A. (2020, June), Empathy in a Service-Learning Design Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34524

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