Crystal City, Virginia
April 29, 2018
April 29, 2018
May 2, 2018
Diversity and LGBTQ+
We report here on preliminary findings from an NSF-supported research study to understand the conditions that help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) engineering students feel comfortable in their educational institutions. Engineering schools are notoriously inhospitable to LGBTQ people, with costly results for LGBTQ students and society. The emotional toll of being an LGBTQ engineer (either open or closeted) is so great that it threatens to drive LGBTQ engineers out of the field. Their departure from engineering for reasons that have nothing to do with qualification only makes the field more homogenous and therefore less creative, innovative, and risk-taking, at the same time diminishing a population that is already underrepresented in engineering. While researchers understand the conventions of engineering culture that can damage non-heterosexual engineering students and engineers, they still know very little about how engineering cultures can support these same engineers.
This paper reports on preliminary findings from a mixed-methods research study conducted at an engineering institution with a notable population of openly LGBTQ engineering students. Building on a campus climate survey, we conducted anonymous surveys as well as interviews and focus groups with openly queer engineering students to identify some of the important elements of the most inclusive and supportive spaces. Our preliminary findings will help us develop ways to extend these elements into engineering classrooms and other formal learning experiences.
To understand the conditions that support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) engineering students and to examine how they prepare students to lead positive change, an interdisciplinary team of humanists and engineers collaborated to design a research study based on the theoretical foundations of 21st-century theories of mind, focusing on how cognition is tied to bodily experience. In contrast to much engineering culture that separates the personal from engineering content and methods, this team begins with the assumption that knowledge is as complex as lived experience, with engineers being both mental and physical, individual and connected, free and determined. Beginning with recent data from a 2016 campus climate survey, we explored the meaning of these results more deeply through individual and focus group interviews with LGBTQ engineering students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a medium-sized engineering college with a surprisingly large number of openly LGBTQ students. These interviews are helping us learn in some detail about the experiences of LGBTQ engineering students and how curricular reforms can contribute to LGBTQ students’ experiences. Our preliminary findings identify those practices and spaces that are most conducive to the growth, success, and self-confidence of LGBTQ engineers, as well as suggest how their professional formation (along many axes including sexual identity) transpires.
Boudreau, K., & DiBiasio, D., & Quinn, P., & Reidinger, Z. (2018, April), Exploring Inclusive Spaces for LGBTQ Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia. https://peer.asee.org/29537
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