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Impact of Student Mindfulness Facets on Engineering Education Outcomes: An Initial Exploration

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education Division Technical Session Session 12

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Tomas Estrada Elizabethtown College

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Dr. Tomas Estrada is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering and Physics at Elizabethtown College, in Elizabethtown, PA. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Universidad de Costa Rica in 2002 and his M.S. and Ph.D. (both in Electrical Engineering) from the University of Notre Dame in 2005 and 2009, respectively. His research interests include control systems, engineering education, technology-related entrepreneurship, and sustainable engineering applications.

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Elizabeth D. Dalton Elizabethtown College

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Assistant Professor of Psychology, Elizabethtown College

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Impact of Student Mindfulness Facets on Engineering Education Outcomes: An Initial Exploration

While the origins of mindfulness and meditation can be traced back thousands of years to religious traditions in India and other parts of Asia, there has been a drastic interest in the topic from academic communities in the West, particularly in the last few decades. Western scholars have begun to study and document the impact of these practices on various aspects of health and wellbeing, such as stress and pain reduction, memory, aging, etc. For example, [1] summarizes many results surrounding mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), and, more recently, [2] provides a comprehensive overview of studies documenting how mindfulness practices may result in permanently altered traits. Because of the encouraging nature of some of these experiments, an increasing number of scholars has begun to explore the role that mindfulness may play in higher education. A wide variety of such examples, across academic disciplines, is provided in [3].

Building on this growing body of knowledge, we seek to explore the benefits that mindfulness may play in the context of engineering education. While some studies at the intersection of these two domains have begun to appear recently [4, 5], there remains much unexplored territory. In this project in particular, we explore the relationship between the mindfulness facets of engineering students and relevant outcomes in engineering education. We used the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) tool [6] to measure the former, and the outcomes from ABET, the national accreditation board for engineering programs, to inform the latter. Additionally, we sought to examine students’ motivation to seek out new and challenging experiences and openness to new experiences using the Curiosity and Exploration Inventory (CEI). [7] For our initial study, we selected ABET Outcome 1: “An ability to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics.” [8]

Our primary research question is as follows: -What relationships exist between the mindfulness facets of engineering students and their performance on and self-efficacy relative to relevant ABET outcomes? Additionally, we collected information on students from other majors as well, so as to explore a second research question: -How do the mindfulness facets of engineering students compare to those of non-engineering students?

Self-report data was collected from 73 undergraduate students (44 engineering). The study sample was predominantly white (85%), male (55%), 19.6 years-old on average. Engineering students’ grades were significantly, positively related to their self-reported preference for challenging information and experiences as measured by the CEI (r = .41, p < .01) and their ability to be mindfully nonreactive as measured by the FFMQ (r = .38, p = .01), but not other facets of mindfulness. Compared to non-engineering students, engineering students reported a significantly higher level of nonjudgmental mindful awareness (t (69) = 3.02, p <.01) and openness to new experiences (t (70) = 3.42, p < .01), and trended towards a higher level of mindful nonreactivity (t (70) = 1.84, p = .07), but did not differ significantly in other facets of mindfulness or openness to new experiences. The observed differences between engineering and non-engineering students may have been attributable in part to gender; as the engineering students were 80% male and the non-engineering students (primarily psychology and occupational therapy students) were 83% female; between group comparisons by gender produced a similar pattern of results to those above, with male students reporting higher degrees of mindful non-reactivity and preferences for challenging information compared to female students.

We intend to use the results presented in this paper as to inform for future work. For example, we will use these results to develop mindfulness interventions for engineering students, specifically targeting the mindfulness facets that correlate with stronger performance in engineering tasks, such as mindful nonreactivity.

References [1] Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Bantam Books, 2013. [2] Goleman, Daniel and Davidson, richard. Altered Traits. New York: Penguin Random House, 2017. [3] Barbezat, Daniel, and Bush, Mirabai. Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2014. [4] Rieken, B., & Schar, M., & Shapiro, S., & Gilmartin, S. K., & Sheppard, S. (2017, June), Exploring the Relationship between Mindfulness and Innovation in Engineering Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. [5] Rieken, B. 2017. “Trait Mindfulness in an Engineering Classroom: An Exploration of the Relationship between Mindfulness, Academic Skills, and Professional Skills.” Frontiers in Education, October 12-15, Erie, PA., [6] Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13, 27-45. [8] Kashdan, T.B., Gallagher, M.W., Silvia, P.J., Winterstein, B.P., Breen, W.E., Terhar, D., & Steger, M.F. (2009). The Curiosity and Exploration Inventory-II: Development, factor structure, and initial psychometrics. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 987-998. [8] ABET:

Estrada, T., & Dalton, E. D. (2019, June), Impact of Student Mindfulness Facets on Engineering Education Outcomes: An Initial Exploration Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32934

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