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Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Getting Engineering Majors to Work with Students in Other Disciplines on Issues Impacting Society

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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

Social Responsibility and Social Justice I: Pedagogical Perspectives

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Ricky T. Castles East Carolina University

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Dr. Ricky Castles is an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering at East Carolina University. He is primarily affiliated with the ECU Electrical Engineering concentration. His research work focuses on the use of wireless sensor networks, microcontrollers, and physiological data collection for a variety of applications. His primary interest is in the area of adaptive tutorial systems, but he has ongoing projects in the area of hospital patient health monitoring and K-12 education. He is actively engaged in K-12 outreach and interested in collaborative research across colleges.

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Despite all of the physics problems engineering majors learn to solve assuming ideal conditions, engineering problems rarely exist in a vacuum. Engineers are impacted in their work by laws, regulations, and policy, standards, business practices, and communication. This paper showcases a research-based course for Honors College students at East Carolina University (ECU). Honors College students from all disciplines across campus are required to enroll in a course that introduces them to research in their chosen field. The various sections of the course were divided based upon the students’ chosen major. This paper focuses on one section of the course comprised of students majoring in Engineering, Technology, Political Science, Mathematics, Communication, and several majors in the College of Business. The students worked in teams of 4-5 on research projects with each team having student members from at least 3 different major disciplines. Each project focused on researching a problem that had not only an engineering component, but also an issue related to policy and business. Each team had to research policies or regulations that relate to their topic, determine the stakeholders for the problem, and develop a study to investigate the issue. Given the limited time of one semester to develop and complete their study, all groups conducted survey-based research or observational studies. Each group learned about ethics in research and was required to complete human subjects based research training and to submit their study to the university institutional review board.

A total of six research projects were completed with each requiring a problem statement and/or research questions, literature review, development of data collection procedures, experimental design, data analytics, oral presentations, and a final written paper with several chapters submitted as deliverables throughout the semester. Students were introduced to qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis procedures. Research questions were formulated through the lens of researchers from various disciplines. This paper presents an outline for how the course was structured, discusses the projects the students conducted, and describes the findings of the various studies. Included is an evaluation of the strengths in the implementation and some advice for structuring such a course in the future. The course topics are also compared with core competencies identified in the literature for engaging in interdisciplinary scholarly research. End of semester student survey results are analyzed to determine the strengths of weaknesses of this course and project implementation.

Overall it is believed that an interdisciplinary research course like this allows students to gain a greater understanding of how their field of study is influenced by professionals in other disciplines through researching public policy, business regulations, marketing strategies, and design decisions that influence their field. This class gave students the opportunity to collaborate with those outside of their own major field, modeling how companies and other agencies assemble professionals from various backgrounds to advance the corporate mission and the state of the art.

Castles, R. T. (2016, June), Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Getting Engineering Majors to Work with Students in Other Disciplines on Issues Impacting Society Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25441

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