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The Artistic Identities of First-Year Engineering Students

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Tuesday Potpourri

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Desen Sevi Özkan Virginia Tech, Department of Engineering Education Orcid 16x16

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Desen is a first-year Engineering Education Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech with a B.S. in Chemical and Biological Engineering from Tufts University. Her current research interests include creativity and design in engineering education.

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Diana Bairaktarova Virginia Tech

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Diana Bairaktarova, is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and the Director of the Creativity Inspiration Engineering Design Aptitudes and Abilities (CIEDAA) Lab. She holds an MS degree in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, and a PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Bairaktarova's ongoing research interests span from engineering to psychology to learning sciences, as she uncovers how individual performance and professional decisions are influenced by aptitudes and abilities, personal interests, and manipulation of physical and virtual objects.

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This paper explores how key identity characteristics pertaining to first year engineering students change following a spatial visualization course with a focus on creativity. According to prior literature, male engineering students have been found to be more successful in grasping abstract constructs. However, these findings are highly disputable due to the fact that student success in understanding such constructs can be attributed to experience, environment or social networks. Moreover, male students’ results lie at the two tail ends of the student distribution in regard to success, so studies conclude that they are less predictable. Furthermore, due to the lack of comparable environments for men and women, wherein men comprise a far larger student and faculty population than women, it is difficult to attribute the differences to gender when the learning environment can be construed as a major confounding factor. The student composition of this spatial visualization class, however, has an even distribution of men and women, which could shed light on understanding if environment truly does play a confounding role in the gender differences in classroom success in spatial visualization. Further exploration is required into understanding if female students strive more towards claiming an engineering identity and if male students identify with goals not affixed to who they are as people. Preliminary survey results from the spatial visualization class highlight the female students’ aspirations to become an engineer, do humanitarian work and have a relationship with nature, which could suggest that women lean towards building an identity through their objectives. For the male students, the highest occurring goals were to obtain a degree, a job, and money, which are all things that are quantifiable and perhaps are less intrinsically reflective. The intersection between creative practices and creative people has recently come to the forefront of creativity research, moving beyond being considered a compliment of an inherent trait only possessed by artists. However, recent literature has transformed this view from a permanent and unattainable trait of infamous creatives to those practices that occur in everyday life and perhaps most importantly, are skills that can be learned. In this study, the class acts as an intervention for first-year engineering cohort (n=190), from which we gauge how their self-perceptions and aspirations change after being in an environment where creativity is learned and practiced.

Throughout engineering courses, studies have found that women are less tolerant of lower grades than their male counterparts, which in part, can be seen as a reflection of one’s identity as opposed to a limited snapshot of their academic progress. Because students are constantly in the process of forming their identities, attributing each individual task to an engineering identity can be vastly detrimental, especially for those further along in its formation rather than those who are first focusing on the trees within the forest. However, perhaps this is a partial testament to why retention rates are difficult to keep high as well as the disconnect between graduating students and the engineering workspace.

We are currently in the process of collecting and analyzing data. A complete report of the findings will be presented in the full draft of the paper. The initial survey results pique further interest and require added exploration into how women, men and other groupings (ie: order of siblings, left-handedness versus right-handedness, involvement in sports) measure their successes. Especially with what levels of comfort those differences evoke and ultimately try and understand how that may alter the type of goals they set. By gathering a more holistic view of first-year engineering students and then understanding how creativity alters those seemingly predetermined identities, this study aims to help fill in the gaps of how creativity and identity intersect at a level where students are barely on the periphery of engineering.

Özkan, D. S., & Bairaktarova, D. (2017, June), The Artistic Identities of First-Year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28943

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