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Teaching Undergraduate Engineering Students Gratitude, Meaning, and Mindfulness

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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 13: Student Learning and Contexts

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Julianna S. Ge Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Julianna Ge is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. At Purdue, she created and currently teaches a novel course for undergraduate engineering students to explore the intersections of wellbeing, leadership, diversity and inclusion. As an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, her research interests intersect the fields of engineering education, positive psychology, and human development to understand diversity, inclusion, and success for undergraduate engineering students. Prior to Purdue, she received dual bachelor’s degrees in Industrial Engineering and Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her prior work experiences include product management, consulting, tutoring, marketing, and information technology.

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Edward J. Berger Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Edward Berger is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education and Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, joining Purdue in August 2014. He has been teaching mechanics for over 20 years, and has worked extensively on the integration and assessment of specific technology interventions in mechanics classes. He was one of the co-leaders in 2013-2014 of the ASEE Virtual Community of Practice (VCP) for mechanics educators across the country. His current research focuses on student problem-solving processes and use of worked examples, change models and evidence-based teaching practices in engineering curricula, and the role of non-cognitive and affective factors in student academic outcomes and overall success.

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Justin Charles Major Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Justin C. Major is a third-year Engineering Education Ph.D student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at Purdue University. Prior to graduate school, he completed Bachelor's degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and Secondary Mathematics Education at the University of Nevada, Reno with a focus on K-12 Engineering Education. Justin's current research focuses on the storied experiences of socioeconomically disadvantaged students at intersections of race/ethnicity, class, and gender in engineering education.

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John Mark Froiland Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Dr. John Mark Froiland has published many studies on parental autonomy support, intrinsic motivation to learn, student engagement, and positive psychology interventions. He has developed an intervention that supports autonomy supportive parent-child communication, positive emotions toward learning, and intrinsic motivation to learn among elementary school students. He has also developed a comprehensive positive psychology intervention that supports the development of lifetime gratitude and positive emotions toward learning among college students. He is on the editorial board of Journal of Attention Disorders, Educational Psychology, and School Psychology International. At Purdue, he teaches an undergraduate course on Learning and Motivation for future teachers, as well as graduate courses on Educational Research Methods and Positive Psychology Interventions. He also consults with companies and schools to promote motivation to learn, engagement, happiness, and productivity among employees and students.

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This work-in-progress investigates the impact of a novel course on engineering thriving on twelve undergraduate engineering students’ own thriving attitudes. More specifically, we investigate their non-cognitive competencies (including mindfulness, gratitude, identity, and sense of meaning) relevant to student success and psychological well-being. Research findings from positive psychology and related fields suggest that improving students’ abilities to thrive improves their academic performance, retention, engagement, and satisfaction. Despite the increasing interest in non-cognitive factors relevant to engineering student thriving, intervention studies of this kind on undergraduate engineering populations are currently lacking. As a first step towards addressing this, we developed a one-credit course for undergraduate engineering students based on research from positive psychology and related fields. This research-based class served the purpose of introducing the concept and language of thriving to undergraduate engineering students to allow them to articulate their own reflections of thriving in the engineering context. We evaluated the impact of this course as an intervention to support engineering students’ non-cognitive competencies.

Using a qualitative analysis of course documents and survey data, we seek to understand whether providing undergraduate engineering students knowledge and language about thriving affects their own non-cognitive profiles, and further, whether those changes continue to endure six months after completing the course. We examined changes in students’ pretest (n = 12), posttest (n = 12), and six-month follow-up (n = 5) scores using a survey that examines the impact of various non-cognitive factors relevant to engineering student success (NSF #redacted). To better understand the observed changes, we also reviewed students’ written course reflections, written feedback, and notes from class discussions.

Together, our findings indicate that engineering students’ non-cognitive competencies are malleable over time, can be taught and learned, and individual non-cognitive competencies should not be researched in isolation. Preliminary findings from survey data showed that the distinct non-cognitive variables we measured changed in similar patterns over time. Preliminary findings from ENGR 396 course documents suggest that distinct non-cognitive competencies are interconnected and function synergistically to impact students. Overall, this study serves as a first step in advancing our knowledge of thriving in the context of undergraduate engineering students. We conclude with a broader discussion of the importance and implications of focusing on positive strengths of undergraduate engineering students, presenting an opportunity to enhance the ways we attract, retain, educate, and graduate engineering students.

Ge, J. S., & Berger, E. J., & Major, J. C., & Froiland, J. M. (2019, June), Teaching Undergraduate Engineering Students Gratitude, Meaning, and Mindfulness Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33358

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