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Framing Engineering as Community Activism for Values-Driven Engineering (RFE Design and Development - Year 2)

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Joni M. Lakin University of Alabama Orcid 16x16

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Joni M. Lakin (Ph.D. , The University of Iowa) is Associate Professor of Educational Research at the University of Alabama. Her research interests include educational assessment, educational evaluation methods, and increasing diversity in STEM fields.

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Daniela Marghitu Auburn University

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Dr. Daniela Marghitu is a faculty member in the Computer Science and Software Engineering Department at Auburn University, where she has worked since 1996. She has published seven Information Technology textbooks, over 100 peer reviewed journal articles and conference papers, and she gave numerous presentations at national and international professional events in USA, Canada, England, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Romania. She is the founder director of the Auburn University Educational and Assistive Technology Laboratory (LEAT), Co-PI of NSF EEC "RFE Design and Development: Framing Engineering as Community Activism for Values-Driven Engineeringan", Co-PI of NSF CISE "EAGER: An Accessible Coding Curriculum for Engaging Underserved Students with Special Needs in Afterschool Programs", institutional partner of AccessComputing (, AccessCS10k and AccessEngineering NSF funded Alliances, CO-PI of NSF INCLUDES: South East Alliance for Persons with Disabilities in STEM (, CO-PI and Technology Coordinator of the NSF Alabama Alliance for Students with Disabilities in STEM (, the PI of NSF Computer Science for All (,. She is the recipient of the 2011 AccessComputing Capacity Building Award, the 2012 Auburn University Access award, the 2012 SDPS Outstanding Achievement Award, the 2013 Microsoft Fuse Research award, the 2015 DO-IT Trailblazer award, the 2017 IARIA Fellowship, the 2017 SDPS Fellowship, and the 2019 Samuel Ginn College of Engineering 100+ Women Strong Leadership in Diversity Faculty Award.

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Edward W. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Edward W. Davis received his PhD from the University of Akron in 1996. He worked in the commercial plastics industry for 11 years, including positions with Shell Chemicals in Louvain-la-Nueve Belgium and EVALCA in Houston TX. He joined the faculty at Auburn University in the fall of 2007. In 2014 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer. He has regularly taught courses in three different engineering departments. In 2015 he began his current position as an Assistant Professor in the Materials Engineering Program.

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Virginia A. Davis Auburn University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Virginia A. Davis’ research is primarily focused on using fluid phase processing to assemble cylindrical nanomaterials into larger functional materials. Targeted applications include optical coatings, 3D printed structures, light-weight composites, and antimicrobial surfaces. Her national awards include selection for the Fulbright Specialist Roster (2015), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum’s Young Investigator Award (2012), the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2010), and a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2009). Her Auburn University awards include the Excellence in Faculty Outreach (2015), an Auburn University Alumni Professorship (2014), the Auburn Engineering Alumni Council Awards for Senior (2013) and Junior (2009) Faculty Research, the Faculty Women of Distinction Award (2012), and the Mark A. Spencer Creative Mentorship Award (2011). Dr. Davis is the past chair of Auburn’s Women in Science and Engineering Steering Committee (WISE) and the faculty liaison to the College of Engineering’s 100 Women Strong Alumnae organization which is focused on recruiting, retaining and rewarding women in engineering. She was also the founding advisor for Auburn’s SHPE chapter.
Dr. Davis earned her Ph.D. from Rice University in 2006 under the guidance of Professor Matteo Pasquali and the late Nobel Laureate Richard E. Smalley. Prior to attending Rice, Dr. Davis worked for eleven years in Shell Chemicals’ polymer businesses in the US and Europe. Her industrial assignments included manufacturing, technical service, research, and global marketing management; all of these assignments were focused on enabling new polymer formulations to become useful consumer products.

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Researchers theorize that identification with a career field is achieved when there is alignment between student values and their perceptions of the values a career field meets. Stereotypically, engineering is perceived to align with status values, such as high pay, but the reality is that engineering is a collaborative enterprise that solves important social challenges. To understand the impact of this approach, we evaluated a traditional Saturday STEM program for Southern, urban African American youth that did not include a significant altruism component. In parallel, we designed a program that used Grand Challenges of Engineering to highlight the impacts of engineering on society and our everyday lives (“altruistic framing”). Students from the same demographic as the traditional STEM program were recruited for this new Tomorrow’s Community Innovators [TCI] Program. We compared the impacts of the traditional STEM program to the TCI camp to explore how they impacted students’ attitudes towards engineering and perceptions of the field.

The TCI program includes university-run summer camps, events for parents and students coordinated with a regional STEM Education nonprofit, and a visit to an on-campus engineering open house. One camp was held on campus in 2019 while the camp in 2020 was moved to a virtual format. At both TCI camps, as well as the Saturday program, students completed pre- and post-camp interviews and surveys about their experiences and how they perceive or define engineering. The traditional STEM, Saturday program involved hands-on activities and museum visits over the course of 10 weeks.

The TCI camp activities included thought exercises, laboratory experiments, app development, and robotics. Both of our samples were in grade 8-10 and African American students. In 2019, all students came from one low-income urban community. In 2020, virtual participants came from rural areas in addition to the urban community. Twenty students participated in the 2019 camp and 13 participated in the 2020 camp. In 2019, we used labs and app development related to three Grand Challenges: provide access to clean water, make solar energy economical, and restore and improve urban infrastructure. In 2020, we shipped materials for activities around water filtration and testing the quality of water.

Across both camps, through interviews, we found that TCI camps led to meaningful changes in students’ appreciation of engineering and, in some cases, new interests in pursuing engineering as a career. Many students noted how broadly engineering affects our everyday lives and how it helps others. For students in the traditional STEM program, students also increased their interest in engineering, but their definitions of the field did not broaden appreciably. Some found new interests, but they did not have the same type of transformative experience as a result of STEM programming without a

Overall, framing engineering as an altruistic career path led to meaningful changes in students’ definitions of engineering and their connection of engineering to their career interests.

Lakin, J. M., & Marghitu, D., & Davis, E. W., & Davis, V. A. (2021, July), Framing Engineering as Community Activism for Values-Driven Engineering (RFE Design and Development - Year 2) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37205

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