Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Educational Research and Methods
This research paper focuses on the effect of recent national events on first-year engineering students’ attitudes about their political identity, social welfare, perspectives of diversity, and approaches to social situations.
Engineering classrooms and cultures often focus on mastery of content and technical expertise with little prioritization given to integrating social issues into engineering. This depoliticization (i.e., the removal of social issues) in engineering removes the importance of issues related to including diverse individuals in engineering, working in diverse teams, and developing cultural sensitivity.
This study resulted from the shift in the national discourse, during the 2016 presidential election, around diversity and identities in and out of the academy. We were collecting interview data as a part of a larger study on students attitudes about diversity in teams. Because these national events could affect students’ perceptions of our research topic, we changed a portion of our interviews to discuss national events in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classrooms and how students viewed these events in relation to engineering.
We interviewed first-year undergraduate students (n = 12) who indicated large differences of attitudes towards diverse individuals, experiences with diverse team members, and/or residing at the intersection of multiple diversity markers. We asked participants during the Spring of 2017 to reflect on the personal impact of recent national events and how political discussions have or have not been integrated into their STEM classrooms. During interviews students were asked: 1) Have recent national events impacted you in any way? 2) Have national events been discussed in your STEM classes? 3) If so, what was discussed and how was it discussed? 4) Do these conversations have a place in STEM classes? 5) Are there events you wish were discussed that have not been?
Inductive coding was used to analyze interviews and develop themes that were audited for quality by the author team. Two preliminary themes emerged from analysis: political awareness and future-self impact. Students expressed awareness of current political events at the local, national and global levels. They recognized personal and social impacts that these events imposed on close friends, family members, and society. However, students were unsure of how to interpret political dialogue as it relates to policy in engineering disciplines and practices. This uncertainty led students to question their future-selves or careers in engineering. As participants continued to discuss their uncertainty, they expressed a desire to make explicit connections between politics and STEM and their eventual careers in STEM.
These findings suggest that depoliticization in the classroom results in engineering students having limited consciousness of how political issues are relevant to their field. This disconnect of political discourse in the classroom gives us a better understanding of how engineering students make sense of current national events in the face of depoliticization. By re-politicising STEM classrooms in a way relevant to students’ futures, educators can better utilize important dialogues to help students understand how their role as engineers influence society and how the experiences of society can influence their practice of engineering.
Langus, T. C., & Rodriguez-Simmonds, H. E., & Pearson, N. S., & Major, J. C., & Godwin, A., & Kirn, A. (2018, June), Social Dialogue in the Engineering Classroom: The Effect of National Events on the Political and Social Attitudes of First-Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30970
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