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Examining Students’ Perceptions Of Interdisciplinarity Based On Gender And Disciplinary Affiliation

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Understanding and Measuring the Impact of Multidisciplinarity

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.546.1 - 15.546.20



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Paper Authors


Alexandra Coso University of Virginia

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ALEXANDRA COSO is a graduate student pursuing an M.S. in Systems Engineering at the University of Virginia. She received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from MIT. Her current research focuses on interdisciplinary engineering education and students' perceptions of the different dimensions of interdisciplinary engineering projects.

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Reid Bailey University of Virginia

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REID BAILEY is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Systems and Information Engineering at the University of Virginia. His research interests focus on studying how students learn complex engineering skills such as engineering design and interdisciplinary collaboration. He received his B.S. from Duke University and both his M.S. and Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Examining Students’ Perceptions of Interdisciplinarity Based on Gender and Disciplinary Affiliation


The aim of the research proposed here is to contribute to theories about the development of undergraduate engineering students as interdisciplinary engineers, by examining engineering students’ perceptions of interdisciplinarity based on gender and disciplinary affiliation. The motivation for this study is due to the gap in the literature regarding the evaluation of interdisciplinary work and the increase in the number of interdisciplinary undergraduate engineering programs and courses. In addition, research indicates female students give greater attention to context in a design problem than their male counterparts, and therefore, could have different experiences in interdisciplinary programs, which are context-focused. Literature has also indicated potential barriers to a student’s interdisciplinary understanding exist due to the student’s affiliation with a particular engineering discipline.

An open-ended questionnaire was used to gain an understanding of the characteristics of engineering students from two majors at the start of the second year, which is the first semester of major coursework at the university in this study. Of the one hundred students in the study, twelve had elected to participate in an interdisciplinary program between the two majors. The questionnaire itself asks students to think about interdisciplinary and non-interdisciplinary engineering projects. Students’ responses to the questionnaire were analyzed using the open coding method of grounded theory to identify emerging themes or categories within the responses. The final coding scheme recognizes students’ differing perceptions of what constitutes an interdisciplinary collaboration, the purpose of using an interdisciplinary approach, and the process for establishing disciplinary grounding. The importance of team dynamics in engineering projects emerged from the responses, specifically in the discussion of communication, task delegation, and recruitment of team members. Additionally, while disciplinary affiliation appeared to influence students’ understanding of the purpose behind using an interdisciplinary approach, gender affected students’ examples of interdisciplinary collaborations. Participation in the interdisciplinary engineering program also was associated with providing the program as an example of an interdisciplinary collaboration. Beyond these areas, there were no significant differences in students’ responses based on gender or disciplinary affiliation. The small sample size of students could have contributed to the small number of significant differences between the independent variables. Overall, due to the open-ended nature of questions, it was not possible to indicate whether all of the students agreed or disagreed with the different perceptions. Therefore, these results were utilized within a larger mixed-methods study, designed to further explore these research questions.


In the 2009-2010 academic year, undergraduate engineering students from across the country will specialize in green engineering, nanobiotechnology, and pharmaceutical engineering or enter majors such as nanosystems engineering and energy engineering.1,2 The objectives of these programs focus on imparting graduates with the abilities to apply tools and skills from multiple

Coso, A., & Bailey, R. (2010, June), Examining Students’ Perceptions Of Interdisciplinarity Based On Gender And Disciplinary Affiliation Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16696

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