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Integrate a conflict resolution session into the freshman engineering problem solving course to improve students’ ability to solve interpersonal team conflicts

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2020 ASEE North Central Section conference


Morgantown, West Virginia

Publication Date

March 27, 2020

Start Date

March 27, 2020

End Date

May 20, 2020

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Xinyu Zhang West Virginia University

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Dr. Xinyu Zhang is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Fundamentals of Engineering Program of Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resource at West Virginia University. She received her Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering in 2012 from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Her research interests include STEM education, environmental engineering, and biomanufacturing.

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Jeremy G. Roberts West Virginia University

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Dr. Jeremy G. Roberts is a Teaching Assistant Professor of Global Supply Chain Management at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics at West Virginia University. He received his Doctorate from the University of Phoenix in 2015. In addition, he also possesses the PMI Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certifications. His teaching interests include supply chain management, project management, and continuous improvement practices.

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The project-based freshman engineering course entitled “Engineering Problem Solving I” in the Fundamentals of Engineering Program (FEP) at West Virginia University (WVU) requires students to work in teams to complete engineering design projects. Many students are lacking in their team dynamics, particularly in handling inter-team conflicts, which can seriously hinder their learning and future coping with conflict. When a conflict happened within a team, students hesitated to enforce their team charters, which defines the project parameters and the team’s standard of conduct. Some students avoided confronting the difficult team members, some waited for the instructor to handle the issues for them while grading their fellow group members with full scores in the peer evaluation regardless of whether they were really happy about their performance.

In addition, the late millennial generation and Generation Z students were criticized to be “more sensitive” and generally lack of professionalism when encountering conflict in the workplace. To better equip freshman engineering students with knowledge to handle team conflict, a “conflict resolution” session will be integrated into the existing “teamwork and project management” module in the course. The curriculum design was under collaboration with faculty from both engineering college and business college with expertise in team building and project management. The new “conflict resolution” session that is in the process of design includes: assessment of the students’ conflict management styles based on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument as well as design of corresponding role play/real-world case scenario in-class practices.

This course session design aims to improve freshman engineering students’ ability to solve challenging team interpersonal dynamics, particularly resolution of conflict. The assessment of student’s conflict management styles will help faculty understand how freshman engineering students handle conflicts, which can further provide insights for the continuous improvement of the Engineering Problem Solving I course and other FEP courses. In addition, our student’s conflict management style assessment data can be used to compare with existing data and better understand the Generation Z students’ conflict resolution style, which will help engineering education become better prepared and orientated toward new generations of students on campus.

Zhang, X., & Roberts, J. G. (2020, March), Integrate a conflict resolution session into the freshman engineering problem solving course to improve students’ ability to solve interpersonal team conflicts Paper presented at 2020 ASEE North Central Section conference, Morgantown, West Virginia.

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