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Smartness in Engineering Culture: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 10: Understanding Student Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Emily Dringenberg Ohio State University

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Dr. Dringenberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Ohio State University. She holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (Kansas State '08), a M.S. in Industrial Engineering (Purdue '14) and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education (Purdue ’15). Her team, Beliefs in Engineering Research Group (BERG) utilizes qualitative methods to explore beliefs in engineering. Her research has an overarching goal of leveraging engineering education research to shift the culture of engineering to be more realistic and inclusive. Dr. Dringenberg is also interested in neuroscience, growth mindset, engineering ethics, and race and gender in engineering. In general, she is always excited to learn new things and work with motivated individuals from diverse backgrounds to improve the experiences of people at any level in engineering education.

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Stephen Secules Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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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.

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Amy Kramer P.E. Ohio State University

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Amy Kramer is a graduate student and research associate at The Ohio State University in the Engineering Education Department. She earned a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Most recently she worked as a structural engineering consultant in Columbus, OH where she specialized in the design of reinforced concrete and steel structures for industrial bulk material handling and storage facilities. Her current research interests in Engineering Education include engineering identity, beliefs about smartness, diversity and inclusion, and engineering culture.

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This theory paper contributes to the study of smartness in engineering culture from different disciplinary perspectives. We are interested in the construct of smartness, which is a powerful, yet implicit, driver of students’ experience in engineering education. Smartness in engineering culture can be linked to both the broad narratives and norms that overarch engineering at a societal level (e.g., engineers are smart) as well as the more specific, individual beliefs that individual students hold about the nature of intelligence (e.g., fixed vs. growth mindset). However, the construct of smartness at these different levels is operationalized differently and is informed by theory from different disciplinary fields such as psychology and anthropology. Studying a complex social construct, such as smartness, from a single disciplinary frame is common; each frame has its advantages and limitations. We use this paper to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue and to motivate the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to studying smartness and its role in the culture of undergraduate engineering education.

We ground our dialogue in the scholarly literature from psychology and anthropology, and leverage two co-authors’ prior work in each of these research frames respectively. From these vantage points, we discuss our own observations of the affordances and limitations of the single disciplinary perspectives. We then motivate and discuss the features of an interdisciplinary research agenda, including challenges associated with blending the assumptions and epistemologies of the two different disciplinary frames. We offer an idea of leveraging the unifying construct of beliefs as a way to facilitate interdisciplinary research on the complex construct of smartness. Theoretical implications of interdisciplinary research in this vein include new approaches to other educational constructs that span both individual mental and collective social dimensions. We note that the interdisciplinary study of smartness in engineering culture also has practical implications, such as for inclusive classroom design.

Dringenberg, E., & Secules, S., & Kramer, A. (2019, June), Smartness in Engineering Culture: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33272

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