Asee peer logo

Putting Diversity in Perspective: A Critical Cultural Historical Context for Representation in Engineering

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

The Big Picture in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Stephen Secules University of Maryland, College Park Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Stephen 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. Stephen's research interests include equity, culture, and the sociocultural dimensions of engineering education.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Research in engineering education often takes an orientation which is not anchored in a historical, political, geographical, institutional, or cultural context. Research citing pedagogical best practices are prominent, hypothetically determining the “best practice” for all populations, at all locations, and at all periods in time, past and future. Likewise, many papers focusing solely on the cognitive psychological factors (e.g. self-efficacy, motivation) affecting learning or achievement imply that the cultural norms and interactional/structural contributions to that psychology are either irrelevant or immutable.

This paper takes the view that in order to make wise choices and progress as a discipline, engineering education needs to understand both its culture and its history. By becoming cognizant of and marking cultural practices, we become capable of transgressing or subverting them. By becoming aware of the historical formation of the discipline, we acknowledge the structures which have contributed to our present day culture, and we become attuned to the forces which may be continually shaping us in the present day.

This paper will present a partial historical and cultural account of the formation of engineering as a discipline, its demographic makeup, its narratives and norms. This account is grounded in three engineering educational cultural norms: competition, masculinity, and whiteness. It draws on a combination of work in critical history and Science Technology and Society fields, and the author’s literature reviews of engineering education publications. While primarily relying on secondary sources, it is in the combination of the accounts, the connection to present day educational cultural settings, and the communication to a specific audience of educational stakeholders that comprises this work’s intellectual contribution.

A prominent theme of the historical narrative is to suggest a reflexive relationship between the demographic representation of the discipline and its cultural normativities. This interrelationship suggests ways in which our deeply held cultural practices may be intrinsically related to our historical and ongoing demographic makeup. This problematizes prominent diversity narratives of which spotlight minority demographic identities in engineering as a novel and isolated concern. It also suggests certain cultural normativities as potential sources of demographic exclusion.

Secules, S. (2017, June), Putting Diversity in Perspective: A Critical Cultural Historical Context for Representation in Engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28776

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: © 2017 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