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Mind the Gap: Exploring the Exploring the Perceived Gap Between Social and Technical Aspects of Engineering for Undergraduate Students

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Student Division Technical Session 4

Tagged Division

Student

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

10

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/37507

Download Count

46

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Paper Authors

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Regina Palero Aleman University of San Diego

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Mireya Becker Roberto

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Joel Alejandro Mejia University of San Diego Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0003-3908-9930

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Dr. Joel Alejandro (Alex) Mejia is an assistant professor in the Department of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. His research has contributed to the integration of critical theoretical frameworks and Chicano Cultural Studies to investigate and analyze existing deficit models in engineering education. Dr. Mejia’s work also examines how asset-based models impact the validation and recognition of students and communities of color as holders and creators of knowledge. His current work seeks to analyze and describe the tensions, contradictions, and cultural collisions many Latino/a/x students experience in engineering through testimonios. He is particularly interested in approaches that contribute to a more expansive understanding of engineering in sociocultural contexts, the impact of critical consciousness in engineering practice, and development and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogies in engineering education.

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Susan M. Lord University of San Diego

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Susan M. Lord received a B.S. from Cornell University in Materials Science and Electrical Engineering (EE) and the M.S. and Ph.D. in EE from Stanford University. She is currently Professor and Chair of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. Her research focuses on the study and promotion of diversity in engineering including student pathways and inclusive teaching. She is Co-Director of the National Effective Teaching Institute (NETI). Her research has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Lord is among the first to study Latinos in engineering and coauthored The Borderlands of Education: Latinas in Engineering. Dr. Lord is a Fellow of the IEEE and ASEE and is active in the engineering education community including serving as General Co-Chair of the Frontiers in Education Conference, President of the IEEE Education Society, and Associate Editor of the IEEE Transactions on Education (ToE) and the Journal of Engineering Education (JEE). She and her coauthors received the 2011 Wickenden Award for the best paper in JEE and the 2011 and 2015 Best Paper Awards for the IEEE ToE. In Spring 2012, Dr. Lord spent a sabbatical at Southeast University in Nanjing, China teaching and doing research. She is on the USD team implementing “Developing Changemaking Engineers”, an NSF-sponsored Revolutionizing Engineering Education (RED) project. Dr. Lord is the 2018 recipient of the IEEE Undergraduate Teaching Award.

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Laura Ann Gelles University of Texas at Dallas Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0001-5591-9629

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Laura Gelles is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Texas at Dallas within the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science where she is studying retention of undergraduate engineering students. She has extensive experience using qualitative and mixed-methods research in Engineering Education. Before joining UTD in September 2020, Laura worked at the University of San Diego on their RED grant to study institutional change efforts and redefine the engineering canon as sociotechnical. She has a background in environmental engineering and received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Utah State University with a research focus on the ethical and career aspects of mentoring of science and engineering graduate students and hidden curriculum in engineering.

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Diana Chen University of San Diego Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0003-3616-1538

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Dr. Diana A. Chen is an Assistant Professor of Integrated Engineering at the University of San Diego. She joined the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering in 2016. Her research interests are in areas of sustainable design, including biomimicry and adaptability in structural, city, and regional applications. Additionally, her scholarship includes topics such as curriculum development, contextualization of fundamental engineering sciences and integrating social justice into engineering education. She earned her MS and PhD in Civil Engineering from Clemson University, and her BS in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.

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Gordon D. Hoople University of San Diego Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-2663-4664

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Dr. Gordon D. Hoople is an assistant professor and one of the founding faculty members of integrated engineering at the University of San Diego. He is passionate about creating engaging experiences for his students. His work is primarily focused on two areas: engineering education and design. Professor Hoople’s engineering education research examines the ways in which novel approaches can lead to better student outcomes. He is the principal investigator on the National Science Foundation Grant “Reimagining Energy: Exploring Inclusive Practices for Teaching Energy Concepts to Undergraduate Engineering Majors.” He has also co-developed a unique interdisciplinary course, Drones for Good, where engineering students partner with peace studies students to design a quadcopter that will have a positive impact on society.

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Abstract

Within engineering education, there is a perceived distinct binary separating social and technical thoughts. Students often describe engineering work in terms of technical matters such as doing things faster, cheaper, or more efficiently, while disregarding the social contexts and social costs of these decisions. This socio-technical dualism is laced into engineering curriculum, passed from professor to student, and reinforced in the workplace. As engineers, we are rarely expected to analyze the social impact of our designs. We are taught to be emotionless, objective, and impartial. When solving problems in class, the social dimension is rarely integrated into the process, reducing problem solving to measurements, calculations, and costs. An approach to integrate the social and technical in engineering, in favor of the development of a critically conscious socio-technical engineer, is to alter the curriculum by incorporating social aspects at the forefront, rather than as an afterthought. In this paper, we write from our perspective as undergraduate engineering students and undergraduate research assistants to describe how engineering experiences and perceptions of engineering form and change due to institutional and curricular changes currently happening at our university. This study examines students describing their decisions to major in engineering, and how a department and classes designed specifically to tackle the socio-technical divide in engineering influenced students’ perception of engineering. We highlight how students emphasize the distinction between social and technical contexts in their thinking as they conceptualize what it means to be an engineer. The University of the Borderland (pseudonym) created a new energy class, with the goal of examining the global energy landscape and considering contemporary socio-technical challenges related to energy. The course was developed to provide an “integrated” approach to energy concepts that crossed disciplinary boundaries. We collected data from interviews to explore how they described their decision to major in engineering and tensions with subsequent descriptions of what is engineering. Preliminary results indicate that the socio-technical divide still exists in the engineering culture amongst these students. Although students talked about social aspects of engineering work, these are seen as lesser, rather than a fundamental part of, engineering problem solving. Students continued to make a distinction between “soft” skills and engineering skills, while simultaneously describing the “soft” skills necessary to be a “good” engineer. Despite the effort made by the professors to integrate the social aspect into engineering content, students may have emulated the disconnect due to social contexts still being less prioritized in the curriculum in lieu of concepts such as efficiency or cost. Additionally, although this specific course may be a step in the right direction, a single course cannot undo the signals being sent in the rest of the curriculum.

Palero Aleman, R., & Roberto, M. B., & Mejia, J. A., & Lord, S. M., & Gelles, L. A., & Chen, D., & Hoople, G. D. (2021, July), Mind the Gap: Exploring the Exploring the Perceived Gap Between Social and Technical Aspects of Engineering for Undergraduate Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37507

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