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Including Universal Design in Engineering Courses to Attract Diverse Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division: Curricular Programs

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.935.1 - 26.935.12



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Paper Authors


Brianna Blaser University of Washington Orcid 16x16

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Brianna Blaser is a counselor/coordinator at the DO-IT Center at the University of Washington where she works with the AccessEngineering program. She earned a bachelors degree in math and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and a PhD in women studies at the University of Washington. She has a background in broadening participation and career development in science and engineering fields. Before joining DO-IT, she was the project director for the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Science Careers Outreach Program.

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Katherine M. Steele University of Washington

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Dr. Steele is an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington. She received her BS in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and MS and PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. She is the head of the Ability Lab, dedicated to designing new tools and techniques to improve human ability through engineering, and also a leader of AccessEngineering to enable individuals with disabilities to pursue careers in engineering. Dr. Steele previously worked in multiple hospitals as an engineer, including The Children's Hospital of Colorado, Lucille Packard Children's Hospital, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

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Sheryl Elaine Burgstahler University of Washigton

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Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler founded and directs the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center and the Access Technology Center. These two centers promote (1) the use of mainstream and assistive technology and other interventions to support the success of students with disabilities in postsecondary education and careers and (2) the development of facilities, computer labs, academic and administrative software, websites, multimedia, and distance learning programs that are welcoming and accessible to individuals with disabilities. The ATC focuses efforts at the UW; the DO-IT Center reaches national and international audiences with the support of federal, state, corporate, foundation, and private funds. Dr. Burgstahler is an affiliate professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her teaching and research focus on the successful transition of students with disabilities to college and careers and on the application of universal design to technology, learning activities, physical spaces, and student services. Her current projects include the Alliance for Students with Disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (AccessSTEM), the Alliance for Access to Computing Careers (AccessComputing), the RDE Collaborative Dissemination project, and the Center for Universal Design in Education.

Dr. Burgstahler has published articles and delivered presentations at national and international conferences that focus on universal design of distance learning, websites and multimedia, computer labs, instruction, student services, and other applications in education; and the management of electronic communities, work-based learning activities and transition programs for youth with disabilities. She is the author or co-author of eight books on using the Internet with pre-college students and directing e-mentoring and transition programs and lead editor of the book Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Dr. Burgstahler has degrees in mathematics, education, and administration of higher education. She has taught precollege and postsecondary mathematics, computer programming, assistive and accessible technology, and preservice/inservice courses for teachers on mathematics instruction and technology applications.

Dr. Burgstahler and her projects have received many awards, including the Professional Recognition Award for the Association for Higher Education and Disability, the National Information Infrastructure Award in Education, the President's Award for Mentoring, the Golden Apple Award in Education, and the Harry J. Murphy Catalyst Award.

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Including Universal Design in Engineering Courses to Attract Diverse StudentsResearch has shown that women and other under-represented groups are interested in usingtechnology in order to improve the world around them. For example, Margolis and Fisher (2002)found that women were interested in using computers in order to do something useful for society.Likewise, students with disabilities have demonstrated an interest in using design in order toimprove the experiences of individuals with disabilities (Blaser, Braitmayer, & Burgstahler2012). Teaching engineering students about universal design helps students develop skills thatallow them to improve the world around them. In doing so, it can help to attract a more diverseset of students to study engineering.Universal design (UD) is the process of designing products or environments to ensure that theyare usable by the widest audience possible, including audiences that are diverse with respect torace, gender, abilities, national origin, age, and other characteristics (Burgstahler 2008a). Aclassic example of universal design is a curb cut that allows a wide range of individuals to betteraccess sidewalks, including individuals using wheelchairs, pushing strollers, or pulling rollingsuitcases. Likewise, universally designing videos would call for them to be captioned in order tobe more usable to individuals with hearing impairments, non-native speakers of English, andviewers who are in noisy environments.Including universal design in engineering courses not only appeals to women and students withdisabilities, but also serves to ensure that the next generation of engineers is better prepared todesign products that are usable to the widest audience possible. The authors of this project areworking with engineering faculty nationwide to develop curricula that teach aspects of UD inengineering courses. This paper includes a variety of ways that faculty members have includedcurricula on UD in their engineering courses. Capstone  or  cornerstone  engineering  design  classes  are  a  natural  fit  for  incorporating  UD  concepts  into  the  engineering  curriculum,  challenging  students  to  design  for  individuals  of  diverse  backgrounds.  UD  can  also  be  a  valuable  addition  to  other  core  engineering  courses,  such  as  evaluating  the  stability  of  devices  for  individuals  of  different  sizes  in  statics  or  dynamics,  creating  design  modifications  for  diverse  users  in  CAD,  or  challenging  students  to  redesign  a  portion  of  one  of  their  lab  activities  to  be  accessible  to  students  with  disabilities.Moreover, it is important that courses are also universally designed in order to ensure that theyare accessible to the widest audience possible, including women, students with disabilities,under-represented minorities, and other under-represented groups. In order to ensure that coursesare universally designed, faculty should consider the class climate, their interactions withstudents and interactions among students, classrooms and products, delivery methods used,information technology, and assessments (Burgstahler 2008b). By providing an example of UDin action in the classroom, engineering faculty can make their courses accessible to a wideaudience and inspire students to do the same within their own engineering careers.ReferencesBlaser, B., Burgstahler, S., & Braitmayer, K. (2012). AccessDesign: A two-day workshop forstudents with disabilities exploring design careers, Journal of Postsecondary Education andDisability, 25(2), 197-201.Burgstahler, S. (2008a). Universal design in higher education. In Universal design in highereducation: From principles to practice (pp. 3-20). Boston: Harvard Education Press.Burgstahler, S. (2008b). Universal design of instruction: From principles to practice. InUniversal design in higher education: From principles to practice (pp. 23-44). Boston: HarvardEducation Press.Margolis, J. & Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge,MA: MIT Press.

Blaser, B., & Steele, K. M., & Burgstahler, S. E. (2015, June), Including Universal Design in Engineering Courses to Attract Diverse Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24272

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