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Exploring Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Infrastructure Inequities: A Pilot Study

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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

For Students to Know and Grow

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Candice W. Bolding Clemson University

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Candice Bolding is currently the Undergraduate Student Services Manager in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering and graduate student at Clemson University. She acts as a support to the undergraduate students in areas such as advising, programming, and registration. She also serves as the advisor to the Civil Engineering Student Advisory Council, which provides a voice for undergraduate students in the program. She also supervises department outreach student ambassadors. She currently sits on the department's Diversity and Outreach Committee and is a liaison for the department to the Office of the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies for the college. In addition to her role as Undergraduate Student Services Manager, Candice is a doctoral student in the Learning Sciences program in the College of Education at Clemson University.

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Jennifer Harper Ogle Clemson University

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Dr. Jennifer Ogle is a Professor in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University and a 2005 graduate of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech. Her research focuses on transportation infrastructure design, safety, accessibility, and management. She also works on research with faculty in engineering education as the facilitator for the NSF Revolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments (RED) grant at Clemson. As a first-generation student and the first tenured female in her department, Dr. Ogle is an advocate for justice, equity, and inclusion in Civil Engineering. In 2012, she was recognized by President Obama as a Champion of Change for Women in STEM.

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Luke J. Rapa Clemson University

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As social justice issues facing our nation continue to be placed in the foreground of everyday life, it is important to understand how undergraduate civil engineering students perceive and understand relations between social justice and our infrastructure systems. Additionally, as more civil engineering undergraduate programs increase the emphasis on ethics and equity issues in their curricula, we must also seek to understand students’ awareness of their influence, as civil engineering professionals, to improve infrastructure systems that contribute to injustice and inequity. This paper presents findings from a pilot study conducted as part of an NSF-funded grant implementing cultural and curricular changes in a medium-sized civil engineering department in the southeast. Drawing on frameworks that examine how individuals critically understand systems of oppression, and the justification used to explain these systems this work examined student perceptions of inequities in societal infrastructure systems. The present study was guided by the following research questions: (1) Are undergraduate civil engineering students critically aware of inequities in society’s infrastructure systems? (2) To what degree are undergraduate civil engineering students comfortable challenging the status quo? (3) Is there an association between students’ critical awareness of inequitable infrastructure systems and their agency to promote systemic change as civil engineering professionals? Study data included survey responses to validated scales measuring: critical consciousness, system justification beliefs, social empathy, and sociopolitical control beliefs. New instrumentation was also piloted assessing equity-related perceptions and beliefs about civil engineering and infrastructure systems. Participants were junior and senior undergraduate civil engineering students (n = 21) enrolled in a professional development, community, and strategic change course, with data collected throughout the Fall 2020 semester. Results suggest that students did have awareness of infrastructure inequities and, on average, did not have strong system justification beliefs. However, there was not an association between students’ awareness of inequities and their agency beliefs about promoting systemic change as civil engineers. After presenting study results, we discuss implications of study results and propose directions for future research.

Bolding, C. W., & Ogle, J. H., & Rapa, L. J. (2021, July), Exploring Undergraduate Civil Engineering Students’ Perceptions of Infrastructure Inequities: A Pilot Study Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37166

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