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Faculty Experiences with Undergraduate Engineering Student Mental Health

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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

Faculty Development Lighting Talk Session 1: COVID-19 Focus

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Faculty Development Division

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Sarah A. Wilson University of Kentucky

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Sarah Wilson is a lecturer in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at the University of Kentucky. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Rowan University in New Jersey before attending graduate school for her PhD at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA. Her research interests include engineering communication, process safety, and undergraduate student mental health. Recently, she was awarded an NSF RIEF grant to student mental health-related help-seeking in undergraduate engineering students. She is completing this project in collaboration with faculty members from educational and counseling psychology. With this work, they aim to better understand the help-seeking beliefs of undergraduate engineering students and develop interventions to improve mental health-related help-seeking. Other research interests include engineering communication and integration of process safety into a unit operations course.

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Joseph H. Hammer University of Kentucky

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Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology

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Ellen L. Usher University of Kentucky

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Ellen L. Usher is a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Kentucky. She received her PhD in educational studies from Emory University in 2007. Her research has focused on the sources and effects of personal efficacy beliefs. She is the director of the P20 Motivation and Learning Lab and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association.

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This research paper explores engineering faculty experiences related to undergraduate student mental health. The prevalence of mental health problems on college campuses is of increasing concern. While this concern is not limited to engineering students, a national study of college students indicated that engineering students are significantly less likely to seek help for a mental health concern than are college students pursuing other majors (Eisenberg et al., 2019). Faculty often become aware of undergraduate students’ mental health concerns through teaching and advising. The purpose of this study was to better understand faculty experiences with and perceptions of undergraduate engineering students’ mental health. A survey was sent to faculty specializing in diverse engineering disciplines at private and public institutions. Of the 106 individuals who responded, 38 were non-tenure track, 16 were tenure track, and 47 were tenured. Five respondents were administrators. Participants reported a range of experience (> 1 year to over 20 years) and student interaction (teaching less than 30 to over 200 students per year) in their roles.

Of the 106 respondents, a majority had experienced a discussion with at least one student about anxiety (87%), difficulty coping with stress (83%), depression (75%), discrimination (55%), and/or a neurodevelopmental/intellectual disability (54%). In addition, 23% of faculty had discussed suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors with a student. Faculty felt most confident in their ability to talk to students about difficulty coping with stress, discrimination, and anxiety; they felt least confident in their ability to talk to students about eating disorders, trauma, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors. Sixty-two percent of faculty felt there was an increase in the prevalence of mental health disorders across their career, with 44% believing there was an increase in the severity. Surprisingly, 30% of faculty had never received training related to student mental health. The results of this study highlight faculty experiences with undergraduate student mental health and could guide the development of targeted training to prepare engineering faculty for interacting with students with mental health concerns. The preferred presentation style for this paper would be either a traditional lecture or round table discussion. The round table format would be used to further discuss faculty experiences and develop strategies for better supporting student mental health.

Wilson, S. A., & Hammer, J. H., & Usher, E. L. (2021, July), Faculty Experiences with Undergraduate Engineering Student Mental Health Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37180

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