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Fostering Empathy in an Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Research on Diversification, Inclusion, and Empathy II

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Dr. Joachim Walther is an associate professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is a director of the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), an interdisciplinary research group with members from engineering, art, educational psychology and social work. His research interests range from the role of empathy in engineering students' professional formation, the role of reflection in engineering learning, and interpretive research methodologies in the emerging field of engineering education research. His teaching focuses on innovative approaches to introducing systems thinking and creativity into the environmental engineering program at the University of Georgia.

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Shari E. Miller University of Georgia

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Shari E. Miller is an Associate Professor and the Associate Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses broadly on social work education and the social work profession with specific areas ranging from educational innovation, thinking in and for social work, development of theory, inter- and trans-disciplinary and inter-professional education and practice, and professional socialization. She has experience teaching across the social work education continuum, with an emphasis on theory, practice, and the relationship between theory, research, and practice. She is engaged in an ongoing collaborative research program with colleagues from engineering to develop inter-disciplinary approaches to education for reflective inter-professional practice in a global society. She also collaborates with colleagues from multiple disciplines on community engaged projects focused on sustainability.

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Nicola W. Sochacka University of Georgia

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Dr. Nicola W. Sochacka received her doctorate in Engineering Epistemologies from the University of Queensland, Australia, in 2011. She is currently a member of the CLUSTER research group at the University of Georgia where she holds a research and teaching position. Nicola's areas of research interest include: STEAM (STEM + Art) education, diversity, interpretive research quality, the role of empathy in engineering education and practice, and student reflection.

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Michael Alvin Brewer jr. University of Georgia

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University of Georgia

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Engineers are increasingly being called upon to infuse a deeply considered, empathic regard for a broad range of stakeholders into their work. This development can be attributed to a growing recognition of the socially-situated nature of engineering practice and the shared and interdisciplinary nature of today’s grand challenges. In order to prepare engineers to more effectively address these challenges, we contend that empathic ways of interacting with others need to be explicitly fostered in undergraduate engineering programs. Pedagogical approaches to teach empathy to engineering students, however, are limited. In this paper, we describe the development and pilot implementation of a set of four empathy modules that we integrated into a sophomore mechanical engineering course (n=110) at a large state university. We used a theoretically-grounded, context-specific model for empathy in engineering, which conceptualizes empathy as a teachable and learnable skill, a critically reflected-upon practice orientation, and a professional way of being, as the basis for developing the modules. Drawing on detailed observation notes and critical reflections, we provide an account of how the modules were received by the students and the lessons we learned with the view to further refining the modules for future iterations. In parallel, we discuss early insights concerning the potential impact of integrating explicit instruction in empathy into undergraduate education on the professional formation of engineers.

Walther, J., & Miller, S. E., & Sochacka, N. W., & Brewer, M. A. (2016, June), Fostering Empathy in an Undergraduate Mechanical Engineering Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26944

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