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Exploring Inclusive Spaces for LGBTQ Engineering Students

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

LGBTQ+ Track - Technical Session IV

Tagged Topics

Diversity and LGBTQ+

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Paper Authors


Kristin Boudreau Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Kristin Boudreau is Paris Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where she also serves as Head of the Department of Humanities and Arts. Her training is in nineteenth-century literature, but for the past nine years she has taught engineering ethics, first-year engineering courses, and humanities for engineers. She has also worked with students and colleagues to develop role-playing games teaching engineering within its complex humanistic context.

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David DiBiasio Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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David DiBiasio is Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Department Head of ChE at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He received his chemical engineering degrees from Purdue University, worked for the DuPont Co,, and has been at WPI since 1980. His current interests are in educational research: the process of student learning, international engineering education, and educational assessment. Collaboration with two colleagues resulted in being awarded the 2001 William Corcoran Award from Chemical Engineering Education. He served as 2004 chair of the ASEE ChE Division, and has served as an ABET program evaluator and on the AIChE/ABET Education & Accreditation Committee. He has also served as Assessment Coordinator in WPI’s Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division and as Director of WPI’s Washington, D.C., Project Center. He was secretary/treasurer of the new Education Division of AIChE. In 2009 he was awarded the rank of Fellow in ASEE, and in 2013 was awarded the rank of Fellow in AIChE.

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Paula Quinn Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Through her role as Associate Director for the Center for Project-Based Learning at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Paula Quinn works to improve student learning in higher education by supporting faculty and staff at WPI and at other institutions to advance work on project-based learning. She believes project-based learning holds significant potential for increasing the diversity of students who succeed in college and who persist in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, and she views her work with the center as contributing to education reform from the inside out. She holds an M.A. in Developmental Psychology from Clark University and a B.A. in psychology from Case Western Reserve University. Her background includes working in the field of education evaluation, where she focused primarily on the areas of project-based learning; STEM; pre-literacy and literacy; student life; learning communities; and professional development. She has worked on projects whose funding sources have included the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Education.

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Zoe Reidinger

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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.

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