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Major Observations from a Specialized REU Program for Engineering Students with ADHD

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Arash Esmaili Zaghi P.E. University of Connecticut

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Dr. Arash E. Zaghi received his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, where he worked on the seismic behavior of novel bridge column and connection details. After graduating, he stayed with UNR as a Research Scientist to overlook two major research projects involving system-level shake table experiments. In 2011, Dr. Zaghi joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Connecticut as an Assistant Professor. His research interests include: application of novel materials and systems for multi-hazard mitigation, design of bridges for extreme events and innovative repair techniques for aging bridges. Dr. Zaghi’s research on next-generation bridge column systems and innovative bridge repair techniques was recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). His latest research endeavor, however, is on the different subject of fostering creativity in engineering education focusing on potential and challenges of engineering students with ADHD. His research has been highlighted in Up Close of the Prism Magazine of American Society of Engineering Education.

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Mark Tehranipoor University of Florida

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Mark M. Tehranipoor is currently the Intel Charles E. Young Professor in Cybersecurity at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the University of Florida. His current research projects include: hardware security and trust, electronics supply chain security, counterfeit IC detection and prevention, and reliable and testable VLSI design. Prof. Tehranipoor has published over 250 journal articles and refereed conference papers and has given more than 150 invited talks and keynote addresses since 2006. In addition, he has published six books and ten book chapters. His projects are sponsored by both the industry (Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), Texas Instruments, Freescale, Comcast, Honeywell, LSI, Mentor Graphics, Juniper, R3Logic, Cisco, Qualcomm, MediaTeck, etc.) and the Government (NSF, ARO, MDA, DOD, AFOSR, DOE, etc.).

He is a recipient of several best paper awards, the 2009 NSF CAREER award, the 2014 MURI award, the 2008 IEEE Computer Society (CS) Meritorious Service Award, the 2012 IEEE CS Outstanding Contribution, the 2010 IEEE CS Most Successful Technical Event for co-founding and chairing HOST Symposium, the 2009 and 2014 UConn ECE Research Excellence Award, and the 2012 UConn SOE Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award.

He serves on the program committee of more than a dozen leading conferences and workshops. Prof. Tehranipoor served as the guest editor for JETTA, IEEE Design and Test of Computers, and IEEE Computer Society Computing Now. He served as Program Chair of the 2007 IEEE Defect-Based Testing (DBT) workshop, Program Chair of the 2008 IEEE Defect and Data Driven Testing (D3T) workshop, Co-program Chair of the 2008 International Symposium on Defect and Fault Tolerance in VLSI Systems (DFTS), General Chair for D3T-2009 and DFTS-2009, and Vice-general Chair for NATW-2011.

He co-founded a new symposium called IEEE International Symposium on Hardware-Oriented Security and Trust (HOST) ( and served as HOST-2008 and HOST-2009 General Chair and continue to serve as Chair of the Steering Committee for HOST. He is also a co-founder of Trust-Hub ( He served as associate Editor-in-Chief (EIC) for IEEE Design and Test of Computers from 2012-2014. He is currently serving as an Associate Editor for IEEE Design and Test of Computers, an Associate Editor for JETTA, an Associate Editor for Journal of Low Power Electronics (JOLPE), an Associate Editor for ACM Transactions for Design Automation of Electronic Systems (TODAES). He has served as an IEEE Distinguished Speaker and an ACM Distinguished Speaker from 2010-2013.

Prior to joining University of Florida, Dr. Tehranipoor served as the founding director of the Center for Hardware Assurance, Security, and Engineering (CHASE) and the Comcast Center of Excellence in Security Innovation (CSI) at the University of Connecticut.

Prof. Tehranipoor is a Senior Member of the IEEE, Golden Core Member of IEEE Computer Society, and Member of ACM and ACM SIGDA. He is also a member of Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (CASE).

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Caitlin Nichole O'Brien University of Connecticut

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Senior at the University of Connecticut pursuing a double major in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering. Originally from Grafton, Massachusetts.

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Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tend to experience the traditional education system differently than their peers. The engineering education system has yet to realize unique potential of these students and identify ways in which to handle these differences in order to keep them engaged and successful. Published literature suggests that individuals with ADHD have the potential of strong divergent thinking skills and unparalleled risk-taking. However, this group of students is significantly underrepresented in engineering programs; some work suggests that only 3% of college students with ADHD choose to study engineering. The current design of engineering education largely fails to provoke the interest of these students because of its overemphasis on lecture-based learning and its discouraging evaluation methods. To recognize the unique intellectual strengths of engineering students with ADHD and encourage them to continue in engineering careers, a specialized Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site titled “REU Site: Research Experience in Cyber and Civil Infrastructure Security for Students with ADHD: Fostering Innovation” has been funded by the NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers.

This paper presents the significant observations of the performance of these students in research environment and the findings from the evaluation of the program through pre- and post-program surveys. It was found that through several informal and formal peer-to-peer interaction opportunities, the participating students related to one another’s similar experiences and struggles in school and everyday life. Their interaction with the PI, who has firsthand experience with ADHD, presented them with a different perspective about their ADHD. The specialized seminars related to ADHD challenges and potentials helped the students gain confidence in their abilities and realize the unique benefits they can offer to the advancement of the nation. The eight participating students became heavily engaged in hands-on research lab activities with no issues related to lack of attention or interest. The majority of the participants intellectually contributed to their research projects, at a level comparable to advanced graduate students. In general, the participating students became more interested in engineering and desired to continue conducting research after the program’s conclusion and pursue graduate studies. This experience clearly demonstrated that, in a properly designed education system based on learning-by-doing, students with ADHD might outperform their peers without ADHD-related impairments. This program intends to establish that ADHD may be perceived as a unique strength, not a disability.

Esmaili Zaghi, A., & Tehranipoor, M., & O'Brien, C. N. (2016, June), Major Observations from a Specialized REU Program for Engineering Students with ADHD Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25588

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