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MIND THE GAP! …between engineers’ process safety beliefs and behaviors

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Cheryl Bodnar Rowan University

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Dr. Cheryl Bodnar is an Associate Professor in the Experiential Engineering Education Department at Rowan University and is currently serving as the Provost’s Fellow for Student Success. Recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Kern Family Foundation have funded her research. Her research interests relate to the incorporation of active learning techniques such as game-based learning in undergraduate classes as well as integration of innovation and entrepreneurship into the engineering curriculum. In particular, she is interested in the impact that these tools can have on student perception of the classroom environment, motivation, and learning outcomes.

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Jeffrey Stransky Rowan University

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Jeffrey Stransky is a PhD candidate in the Experiential Engineering Education (ExEEd) Department at Rowan University. His research interests involve studying engineering ethics and decision making and using digital games as safe teaching environments. He has published in the overlap of these topics by integrating digital games into chemical engineering curriculum to help students build an awareness of the ethical and practical implications of their decisions. Jeffrey obtained his BS and MSc in Mechanical Engineering from Rowan University (Glassboro, NJ).

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Cayla Ritz Rowan University

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Cayla, originally from Freeland, Maryland, has attended Rowan University for all undergraduate and graduate-level degrees. She graduated in Spring 2020 with her BS in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Honors Studies. She also has her MSc in Mechanical Engineering with a COGS in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and is pursuing a PhD in Engineering with a concentration in Engineering Education. Specifically, her research interests are focused on combining the humanities and social sciences with STEM education to create a unique learning experience for students.

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Emily Dringenberg The Ohio State University


Elif Miskioglu Bucknell University

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I am an early-career engineering education scholar and educator. I hold a B.S. in Chemical Engineering (with Genetics minor) from Iowa State University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from The Ohio State University. My early Ph.D. work focused on the development of bacterial biosensors capable of screening pesticides for specifically targeting the malaria vector mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. As a result, my diverse background also includes experience in infectious disease and epidemiology, providing crucial exposure to the broader context of engineering problems and their subsequent solutions.

These diverse experiences and a growing passion for improving engineering education prompted me to change career paths and become a scholar of engineering education. As an educator, I am committed to challenging my students to uncover new perspectives and dig deeper into the context of the societal problems engineering is intended to solve. As a scholar, I seek to not only contribute original theoretical research to the field, but work to bridge the theory-to-practice gap in engineering education by serving as an ambassador for empirically driven educational practices.

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In response to chemical process incidents, the ABET criteria for chemical engineering programs has expanded to include an emphasis on the understanding of hazards associated with chemical processes. This requirement has oftentimes been met with a focus on system design and requirements. However, experts are coming to recognize that human error and judgements can be contributing factors in serious accidents. Poor judgements are a risk of individuals inaccurately predicting their actions, and engineers are not immune to these risks, especially when they are considering how to make tradeoffs with process safety criteria. Where engineers may believe to be prioritizing safety, their behaviors may demonstrate otherwise, which risks the well-being of others. For example, the Pryor Trust well blowout and Chevron refinery explosion may have both been exacerbated due to engineers inadequately making trade offs between safety and productivity demands. It is possible to minimize poor judgments caused by inaccurate predictions by reconciling self-held beliefs with actions actually taken.

The purpose of this paper is to describe a pilot study with five senior level engineering students that aims to facilitate understanding whether they have any gaps between their beliefs and behaviors regarding competing criteria in a process safety context. The project is driven by the following four research questions: 1) What do engineers believe about how they make judgements; 2) How do they behave when actually making judgements; 3) What gap, if any, exists between their beliefs and behavior; and 4) How do they reconcile any gap between their beliefs and behavior? To begin answering these questions, we will interview subjects on their beliefs using a semi-structured interview format. We will then obtain data on subjects’ actual behaviors through a recently developed process safety digital game, Contents Under Pressure. Finally, we will compare the subjects’ responses to similar dilemmas in both contexts to then generate a Gap Profile that provides a visual of differences, if they exist. Subjects will then be asked to reconcile their Gap Profile in a subsequent interview.

Bodnar, C., & Stransky, J., & Ritz, C., & Dringenberg, E., & Miskioglu, E. (2022, August), MIND THE GAP! …between engineers’ process safety beliefs and behaviors Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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