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Practicing Engineers’ Perceptions of Empathy and Care: Derived Exploratory Factor Structure from a 37-Item Survey

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Critical Thinking, Leadership, and Creativity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.991.1 - 24.991.15



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Paper Authors


Justin L. Hess Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Justin Hess is a Ph.D. candidate at Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He received his BS in Civil Engineering in 2011 with a minor in philosophy and hopes to receive his MSCE in December of 2014, both from Purdue University. His research focuses on understanding engineers’ core values, dispositions, and worldviews. His dissertation focuses on conceptualizations, the importance of, and methods to teach empathy to engineering students. He is currently the Education Director for Engineers for a Sustainable World and an assistant editor for Engineering Studies.

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Johannes Strobel Texas A&M University

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Dr. Johannes Strobel is Director, Educational Outreach Programs and Associate Professor, Engineering and Education at Texas A&M. After studying philosophy and information science at three universities in Germany, he received his M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He worked at Concordia University, Montreal and has been the director of the Institute of P-12 Engineering Research and Learning at Purdue University. NSF and several private foundations fund his research. His research and teaching focuses on engineering as an innovation in P-12 education, policy of P-12 engineering, how to support teachers and students' academic achievements through engineering, the measurement and support of the change of 'engineering habits of mind' particularly empathy and the use of cyber-infrastructure to sensitively and resourcefully provide access to and support learning.

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Rui Pan Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Pan earned her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Hefei University of Technology and received both her M.S. in Statistics and Ph.D in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Carrie A. Wachter Morris Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Wachter Morris is an associate professor and co-director of the School Counseling program at Purdue University. Her research interests include scholarship of teaching and learning, empathy and care, and crisis prevention and intervention.

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PRACTICING ENGINEERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF EMPATHY AND CARE: FINDINGS FROM A 37-ITEM SURVEY This study is motivated by existing calls for change within engineering and engineeringeducation. The focus is on two skills or dispositions which seem to underlie essential engineeringhabits of mind for the holistic engineer of the future; empathy and care. The study explores, fromthe perspective of practicing engineers, in what ways empathy and care already exist withinengineering practice and in what ways empathy and care are considered most important toengineering practice. We analyzed this 37-item questionnaire using exploratory factor analysis(n=1574) followed by non-parametric testing (n=1481) as normality assumptions were invalid.Through exploratory factor analysis, four primary factors were formed; (a) existence inengineering work and practice, (b) importance in technical aspects of engineering, (c) potentialeffects of greater inclusion in engineering, and (d) importance in relational aspects ofengineering (see page 2 for factor reliability and associated items). Using this derived four-factor structure, non-parametric tests were used to measuredifferences in practicing engineers perceptions by gender and number of years of work experice.Along each factor, the findings suggest that practicing engineers’ with greater years of workexperience were significantly more likely to perceive empathy and care as existing inengineering practice and important to their work. Males were significantly more likely toperceive empathy and care as already existing or important to their engineering work (usingfactors 1 and 2). Overall, the results suggest practicing engineers perceive empathy and care areimportant and already existing within their own day-to-day practice. This study ends with theimplications for engineering educators based on these findings.Derived Factor Structure FactorNumber Factor Name Items Paired to Factor* Factor Reliability Existence in Engineering Work &1 Practice 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 0.857 Importance in Technical Aspects2 of Engineering 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 31 0.8613 Potential Effects 22, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 0.826 Importance in Relational Aspects4 of Engineering 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 0.837

Hess, J. L., & Strobel, J., & Pan, R., & Wachter Morris, C. A. (2014, June), Practicing Engineers’ Perceptions of Empathy and Care: Derived Exploratory Factor Structure from a 37-Item Survey Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22924

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