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Teamwork in Engineering Undergraduate Classes: What Problems Do Students experience?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session - Development Opportunities for Diverse Engineering Students

Tagged Divisions

Minorities in Engineering and Women in Engineering

Tagged Topics

Diversity and ASEE Diversity Committee

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Paper Authors


Joanna Wolfe Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Wolfe is Teaching Professor of Rhetoric and Director of the Global Communication Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

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Elizabeth A. Powell Tennessee Technological University

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Dr. Beth Powell has a doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Louisville. Her research is in engineering communication, and she works as a Coordinator for the College of Engineering Student Success Center at Tennessee Tech University.

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Seth Schlisserman


Alexandra Kirshon

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Alexandra Kirshon is a Decision Science major at Carnegie Mellon University with an additional major in Professional Writing and a minor in Public Policy and Management.

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Teamwork in Engineering Undergraduate Classes: What problems do students experience?

While teamwork is commonly integrated into engineering programs, it often discourages women and minorities. The purpose of the current research is to better understand what teamwork problems women and minorities most frequently encounter and the resources they currently have for solving these problems. The researchers report findings from a two-part study. In Part I, 677 engineering undergraduates at three different universities responded to a survey asking to what extent they had experienced different types of team problems in their STEM classes in the past year. 85% of participants reported they had at least one problem, the most common being a “slacker teammate.” Additionally, women were significantly more likely than men to report problems with feeling like they experienced limited learning because of their role on the team, and both women and under-represented minorities were significantly more likely than other groups to report being excluded from the main work of the team and having a domineering teammate.

To complement and further illuminate the survey results, Part II describes interviews with 63 undergraduates from seven different universities, where the researchers asked participants about problems they encountered during their engineering curriculum and to comment on problem scenarios. Findings suggest that students often lack resources for effectively solving team problems, though “high achieving” students, defined as having a self-reported GPA of 3.5 or above, are often more proactive when dealing with slacker teammates, using strategies such as setting early deadlines or selecting teammates known also to be high achievers. However, across the board, students preferred to “do nothing” when dealing with domineering or exclusionary teammates.

These findings shed light on the disproportionate burden women and under-represented minorities face in team projects and the lack of resources students have, pointing to a need for interventions to teach problem-solving skills.

Wolfe, J., & Powell, E. A., & Schlisserman, S., & Kirshon, A. (2016, June), Teamwork in Engineering Undergraduate Classes: What Problems Do Students experience? Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26069

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