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Increasing Engineering Literacy among Non-Engineering Students

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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

Promoting Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


Jonathan Grunert Virginia Tech

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Jonathan Grunert is a graduate student in Virginia Tech's department of Science and Technology in Society, with backgrounds in history and library science. His broader interests are in the history of scientific representation. He has taught courses in American history, Science and Society, and Engineering Cultures.

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Stephanie G. Adams Virginia Tech

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Dr. Stephanie G. Adams is the Department Head and Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. She previously served as Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the School of Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University and was a faculty member and administrator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Her research interests include: Teamwork, International Collaborations, Faculty Development, Quality Control/Management and Broadening Participation. She is an honor graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, where she earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering, in 1988. In 1991 she was awarded the Master of Engineering degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. She received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1998. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the National Science Foundation's most prestigious, Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education, holds membership in a number of organizations and presently serves on the National Advisory Board of the National Society of Black Engineers.

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Background: In 2014 and 2015, we developed a survey measuring undergraduate student perceptions of engineering literacy among non-engineers. We compared perceptions across gender, race/ethnicity, area of study, and academic progress, showing very small differences. One of our larger goals was to enhance engineering literacy among non-engineers, and in Fall 2015, we were able to offer a class with a significant engineering literacy component.

Purpose: This paper looks at student evaluations of what they learned in the course. While the course outcomes list what students ought to learn as a result of the class, we have worked to identify how students, particularly the students not intending to major in engineering, have increased their engineering literacy through the course.

Methods: This study used qualitative means of evaluating students' improvements in engineering literacy. We had a participant-observer in the classroom as a witness to how the students have engaged with topics at hand, and in conversing with each other about engineering. Additionally, that same observer interviewed all the students in the class. The students come from a range of academic backgrounds, and at different stages in their academic careers, giving this study some breadth.

Results: The interviews demonstrated that students in the class have increased in their confidence in attitude toward engineering literacy. Through making, through readings, and through critiquing, students have become more confident in their discussions of engineering, evidence of a marked improvement in engineering literacy.

Conclusion: We argue that a course in engineering literacy improves student confidence in conversing about engineering matters. As such, it is an integral component of a liberal arts education, where a goal is to help mold students into more responsible and cognizant citizens. Students in an engineering literacy course can learn why engineering is relevant to non-engineering fields, but also how non-engineering fields are important for engineering.

Grunert, J., & Adams, S. G. (2016, June), Increasing Engineering Literacy among Non-Engineering Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25670

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