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In Their Own Words: How Aspects of Engineering Education Undermine Students’ Mental Health

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

LEES 3: Assessing/Addressing Mental Health

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Paper Authors


Kacey Beddoes San Jose State University

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Kacey Beddoes, Project Director, San Jose State University College of Engineering Dean’s Office and Research Foundation. Kacey serves as Managing Editor of Engineering Studies, Deputy Editor of the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, and is Past Chair of the SEFI Working Group on Gender and Diversity. She holds a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech, along with graduate certificates in Engineering Education and Women’s Studies. Her current research focuses on gender, interdisciplinarity, and mental wellness in engineering and engineering education. Further information about her work can be found at

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Andrew Danowitz California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Andrew Danowitz is an Associate Professor with the Department of Computer Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA. He has published numerous articles on mental health in engineering education.

Dr. Danowitz is also an advisory board member for the American Society of Engineering Education Pacific Southwest chapter.

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Several recent studies have documented high rates of mental health struggles among engineering students. To date, however, studies of mental health in engineering have been limited to primarily quantitative surveys. This paper advances the research landscape by presenting findings from an interview study with current and former engineering students. The interview data can help explain quantitative findings from previous studies and provide deeper insights into relationships between engineering culture and mental health. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with fourteen undergraduate students from five universities in four different states in the United States. Through the interviews, we identified seven specific features of engineering and engineering education that undermined students’ mental health. Furthermore, our analysis identifies not only what aspects of engineering education undermine mental health but also explains how they do so. While the interviews were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic in fall of 2020, the experiences reported by students were primarily pre-pandemic experiences, and are not specific to pandemic conditions. In addition to elucidating the seven aspects presented in the Findings, one aim in identifying and discussing these features is to challenge tacit or taken-for-granted notions that these aspects of engineering education are given, necessary, unchangeable, or desirable. Shedding light on the ways in which the features identified in this paper impact students can help engineering educators, administrators, and other students critically reflect on how their role in perpetuating these characteristics affects students and the engineering education system as a whole.

Beddoes, K., & Danowitz, A. (2022, August), In Their Own Words: How Aspects of Engineering Education Undermine Students’ Mental Health Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--40378

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