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Going is Not Knowing: Challenges in Creating Intercultural Engineers

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Student Preparation for, and Outcomes from, Community Engagement Efforts

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Kurt Paterson P.E. James Madison University Orcid 16x16

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Kurt Paterson currently serves as Head of the recently launched engineering program at James Madison University. There he has partnered with faculty, students, and stakeholders to deliver a 21st century engineering education for 21st century needs. His scholarly interests include the genesis of innovative workplaces, contribution-based learning, and community-based design. He has served as chair of ASEE's International Division, and was founding chair of ASEE's Community Engagement Division.

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Christopher Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Chris Swan is Associate Dean at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civil Life and an associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Tufts University. He has additional appointments in the Department of Education and the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts. His current engineering education research interests focus on learning through service-based projects and using an entrepreneurial mindset to further engineering education innovations. He also researches the development of reuse strategies for waste materials.

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David W. Watkins Michigan Technological University

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Dr. Watkins' teaching and research interests include hydrologic and hydraulic engineering, water and environmental systems analysis, and international service learning. He serves as a faculty advisor to the Michigan Tech student chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA and co-coordinator of the Peace Corps Master’s International Program in civil and environmental engineering. He also directs an international capstone design program in Panama.

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The last twenty years has witnessed a surge in the growth of community engagement programs for engineering students in the United States. Coupled to the enthusiasm of the Millennial Generation, many of these efforts have an international community development focus where engineering teams work with community members on small-scale infrastructure. One expressed motivation for such programs is the transformative experience and mindset-shift many participants report upon return from their time abroad. Industry has been quick to endorse such opportunities as necessary in creating the "global engineer", a professional adept and effective in a dynamic interconnected work world. This paper explores these perceptions through an objective measure of intercultural awareness, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). The IDI is a cross-culturally valid and reliable method to assess intercultural competence development, and is suggestive of the student's proficiency at working with others who view the world differently. This paper will report the results of two large engineering student cohorts: 149 students at a mid-sized technical university in the US, and a 120 student sample from five different institutions across the US. The former group is a mix of singular sampling, but all students were involved in one or more optional sustainable development programs. The five institution group was tested annually for three years, and had a range of service experiences (from none to many). The technical university cohort averaged an IDI developmental orientation score of 90.7, a Minimization mindset (identifies commonalities between cultures); whereas the five institution group averaged an 81.9 which is in the transition from a Polarization mindset (identifies that one culture is superior, often through an "us versus them" perspective). The latter dataset had no statistically significant differences among institutional IDI averages, although one institution showed significant decreases in IDI amongst their students. A majority of engineering students report increased levels of engagement with time in their studies. However, an examination of the longitudinal dataset reveals slightly more than half the participants had decreasing IDI scores over three years of engineering education; engineering community engagement experiences (and engineering education in general) seem to have little impact on the intercultural mindsets of engineering students on average, although about 20% of individuals experienced substantial shifts of more than 10%/yr. This study suggests considerable attention to the design and implementation of service experiences will be needed to yield the intercultural engineer.

Paterson, K., & Swan, C., & Watkins, D. W. (2016, June), Going is Not Knowing: Challenges in Creating Intercultural Engineers Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25408

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