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Multicultural Dynamics in First-year Engineering Teams in the U.S.

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 3: Diversity and Multicultural Influences in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1177.1 - 26.1177.11



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Paper Authors


Isabel Cristina Jimenez-Useche School of Engineering Education, Purdue University

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Isabel C. Jimenez-Useche is a Post-doctoral Research Assistant of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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Matthew W. Ohland Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew W. Ohland is Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He has degrees from Swarthmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the University of Florida. His research on the longitudinal study of engineering students, team assignment, peer evaluation, and active and collaborative teaching methods has been supported by over $14.5 million from the National Science Foundation and the Sloan Foundation and his team received Best Paper awards from the Journal of Engineering Education in 2008 and 2011 and from the IEEE Transactions on Education in 2011. Dr. Ohland is Chair of the IEEE Curriculum and Pedagogy Committee and an ABET Program Evaluator for ASEE. He was the 2002–2006 President of Tau Beta Pi and is a Fellow of the ASEE and IEEE.

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Stephen R Hoffmann Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Stephen R. Hoffmann is the Assistant Head of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, with responsibilities for the First-Year Engineering Program.

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Multicultural team dynamics in a First-Year Engineering class in the U.S. During the last decade, U.S. universities have experienced a significant increase in thenumber of international students. Most of these students come to the U.S. seeking top qualityeducation from the best universities in the world. In addition, top universities in the U.S. areinterested to recruit more international students to get the best students in the world and toprovide a more “global” experience for domestic students. However, international studentsexperience a variety of adjustment issues, mainly due to cultural and communication differences,that challenge the teaching and learning processes that take place in the classrooms. In particular,the development of teamwork skills is one of the processes that most vividly feels the impact ofhaving a culturally diverse population. The First-Year Engineering program studied had one international student per sevendomestic students in 2005/2006 and now has one international student per three domesticstudents. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of multicultural teams in the First-Year Engineering classes. To better serve the needs of both domestic and international studentsand to help all students to develop the appropriate skills to work in multicultural teams, weexplored how the presence of international students affects team dynamics in first-yearengineering. An enrollment of 1524 students in a first-year required engineering course, of whom 22%were international students, were grouped in teams of three or four people to engage in a varietyof team-based activities during the semester. Teams were formed using the CATME Team-Maker tool, which assigns students to teams according to criteria specified by the instructors.Immigration status was not consider as a teaming criteria, but language of previous instructionwas. A total of 386 teams were formed; 160 (41.5%) had only domestic students, 129 (33.4%)had one international student, and the other 97 teams (25.1%) had two or more internationalstudents. Team-based activities developed by the students consist of a Modeling ElicitingActivity (MEA), one team-based exam and a semester project that together accounted for ~45%of the class grade. Students worked with the same team through the semester. Team dynamicswas studied by collecting and analyzing peer evaluation data as well as team-based measures ofinterdependence, cohesiveness, conflict, and satisfaction. Each of the team-based measures wasmeasured once during the semester, using appropriate instruments found in literature and adaptedwhen required. We compared the results obtained from teams of only domestic students andteams of domestic and international students to elucidate the distinctive features of teamdynamics of multicultural and homogeneous teams. We found team dynamics of teams with one international student and only domestic studentsto be very similar. When two or more international students are part of the team, teams exhibitlow levels of cohesiveness, high levels of conflict, and low levels of team satisfaction. Wheninvestigated further, we found that in heterogeneous teams, it is domestic students who are moredissatisfied with the team. Relationship conflict and process conflict showed the greatest response to team composition.The increase in relationship conflict, associated with awareness of interpersonalincompatibilities, might arise from the development of cliques of domestic and internationalstudents, particularly if the international students have cultural and language similarities. Theincrease in process conflict, on the other hand, could be the result of discrepancies in the way thetask is accomplished, in particular cultural differences in the way duties and responsibilities aredesignated and resources allocated. These results raise awareness of the consequences of globalizing our campus and shed lightinto the challenges associated with the development of professional skills in our students(domestic and international). Specifically, the findings from this research have implications inthe way student teams are formed, and how instructors or others coach/advise multiculturalteams to maximize team performance and team member satisfaction.

Jimenez-Useche, I. C., & Ohland, M. W., & Hoffmann, S. R. (2015, June), Multicultural Dynamics in First-year Engineering Teams in the U.S. Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24514

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