Asee peer logo

New Directions from Theory: Implications for Diversity Support from the Theories of Intersectionality and Liberatory Pedagogy

Download Paper |


2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

Undergraduate Education Track - Technical Session I

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Undergraduate Education

Page Count


Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Stephen Secules University of Georgia Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Stephen is research faculty in the Engineering Education Transformation Institute. He received a PhD in education at the University of Maryland researching engineering education. He has a prior academic and professional background in engineering, having worked professionally as an acoustical engineer. He has taught an introduction to engineering to undergraduate engineers and to practicing K-12 teachers, and a course on engineering and society to undergraduate engineers. Stephen's research interests include equity, culture, and the sociocultural dimensions of engineering education.

visit author page


Nicola W. Sochacka University of Georgia

visit author page

Dr. Nicola Sochacka is the Associate Director for Research Initiation and Enablement in the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. Supported by over 1M in funding, Dr. Sochacka’s research interests include interpretive research quality, systems thinking, diversity, STEAM (STEM + Art) education, and the role of empathy in engineering education and practice. Her work has been recognized through multiple best paper awards and keynote presentations at international and national conferences and workshops.

visit author page


Joachim Walther University of Georgia

visit author page

Dr. Joachim Walther is an Associate Professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia and the Founding Director of the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) in the College of Engineering. The Engineering Education Transformations Institute at UGA is an innovative approach that fuses high quality engineering education research with systematic educational innovation to transform the educational practices and cultures of engineering. Dr. Walther’s research group, the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), is a dynamic interdisciplinary team that brings together professors, graduate, and undergraduate students from engineering, art, educational psychology, and social work in the context of fundamental educational research. Dr. Walther’s research program spans interpretive research methodologies in engineering education, the professional formation of engineers, the role of empathy and reflection in engineering learning, and student development in interdisciplinary and interprofessional spaces.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Co-curricular diversity support programs and structures have an important role in supporting underrepresented students in undergraduate engineering and STEM departments. These programs typically aim to provide a safe space and resources for a primary shared marginalized identity group, for instance, Women in Engineering programs, Minority in Engineering programs, LGBT focused programs (Out in STEM, NOGLSTP). While these programs have an important role in undergraduate engineering and have proven results for retention and academic success, they often take a similar model. Fundamental research to establish theory on the most important elements of diversity support, and to expand on existing models with new approaches, is less often pursued.

This paper leverages theory and practice from outside of engineering education in order to note contrasts and imagine new possibilities for diversity support structures. First, from critical legal studies and critical race theory, the theory of intersectionality raises awareness of the multiple overlapping marginal identities, and the particular ways that oppressive social structures affect the individuals. Recent trends in intersectionality have also considered overlapping privileged/dominant and marginal identities. Intersectionality suggests a new attention to the multiple identities of a student group, rather than focusing on a single shared identity.

Second, the theories of liberatory pedagogy and critical theorizing suggest that a marginalized individual engaging critically with oppressive culture is a key act of agency, and may be more empowering than other forms of help or support. As a key enactment, Intergroup dialogue is a diversity approach popular outside of STEM, but rarely explored within engineering education. Intergroup dialogue emphasizes establishing a community of trust and dialogue across difference, rather than requiring similarity for the conversation.

This paper will use the three theoretical constructs to suggest key challenges within diversity support. It will conclude with possible directions for diversity support which both draw on existing structures and suggest new forms.

Secules, S., & Sochacka, N. W., & Walther, J. (2018, April), New Directions from Theory: Implications for Diversity Support from the Theories of Intersectionality and Liberatory Pedagogy Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015