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Engineering Students’ Experiences of Socially-mediated Exclusion and Inclusion: Role of Actors and Discourses

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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

Critical Conversations on Being Valued

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Minha R. Ha York University Orcid 16x16

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Minha is a PhD Candidate in Mechanical Engineering, whose qualitative research focuses on the socio-technical knowledge integration in engineering design practice. As an interdisciplinary researcher with formal training in Molecular Biology and Education Research, she integrates grounded theory and Critical Discourse Analysis methods in order to study the transdisciplinary aspects of responsible design. Inquiry learning and knowledge co-creation are at the heart of her teaching approaches, whether in lecture, workshop, and laboratory settings. She has been actively involved in ethics, equity and leadership education in engineering since 2011.

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Jeffrey Harris York University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jeffrey Harris is an assistant professor (teaching stream) in mechanical engineering at York University in Toronto, Canada. He currently serves at the Director of Common Engineering and Science within the Lassonde School of Engineering. He has a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Toronto and is completing a M.Ed. from York University.

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Aleksander Czekanski CEEA-ACEG

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Dr. Aleksander Czekanski is an Associate Professor and NSERC Chair in Design Engineering in Lassonde School of Engineering at York University, Canada. Before beginning his academic career, Dr. Czekanski worked for over 10 years in the automotive sector.
Dr. Czekanski attention is dedicated to newly established Lassonde School of Engineering (York). He devotes his efforts towards the enrichment of Renaissance Engineering program by including interdisciplinary learning, industry collaboration and designing for positive social impact which contributes to the uniqueness of York’s engineering program. As an active participant in the establishment of the undergraduate and graduate Mechanical Engineering programs, his attention is devoted to providing students with both experiential learning and soft skills.

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Background – In the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the underrepresentation of female students and racialized minorities is consistently pronounced in its undergraduate enrolment. The department is placed within an engineering school that has been actively implementing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategies, from high school outreach to undergraduate research, extracurricular events, peer mentorship and unconscious bias training for hiring committees. A larger study on the design learning in our program has led to a smaller study of EDI-related student experiences and perspectives from both the dominant and minority groups in Mechanical Engineering.

Purpose/Hypothesis – This paper aims to help enhance institutional EDI efforts by identifying the role of adults and peers in the engineering students’ experiences of exclusion and inclusion. Three questions are posed: (1) What pre-university experiences create barriers to pursuing engineering? (2) What helped youth pursue and enter engineering programs? (3) What motivates the current engineering students to stay or leave their program?

Design/Method – Thematic analysis and rhetorical analysis were applied to the student interview data collected in 2018, as part of a larger study on engineering design education in our Department of Mechanical Engineering (2015-2019). Questions directly regarding EDI were incorporated into the semi-structured, in-depth interview design in 2018, as a result of the preliminary findings in previous years. Four male and three female undergraduate students in Mechanical Engineering participated in the individual, audio-recorded, 90-120 minute interviews in 2018.

Results – Engineering students of both dominant and underrepresented identities experienced different forms of exclusion before university. Students who successfully entered engineering programs had key adult figures who provided the emotional support and information resources needed in order to uptake, and see oneself as able to succeed in, the opportunities that lead to an engineering degree and career. During university, the role of peers’ behaviour, perception, and discourses became pronounced factors in either a sense of belonging or push out effect.

Conclusions – We recommend that the strategies toward an inclusive culture include: (1) Staff and faculty skills to actively enhance the collective social capital network for all students; (2) Shaping a plural and diverse dominant images of engineers by their recognition in the curriculum and discourses; and (3) Behavioural approach to diversity, in developing expectations and skills to establish mutual respect among peers.

Ha, M. R., & Harris, J., & Czekanski , A. (2021, July), Engineering Students’ Experiences of Socially-mediated Exclusion and Inclusion: Role of Actors and Discourses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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