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The Development and Growth of Empathy Among Engineering Students

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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

Research on Diversification, Inclusion, and Empathy II

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Justin L Hess Purdue University - West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Justin L. Hess received his PhD from Purdue University's School of Engineering Education along with his Master's of Science and Bachelor of Science from Purdue's School of Civil Engineering. Justin is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in the STEM Education Research Institute at IUPUI. Justin's research interests include developing pedagogical strategies to improve STEM students' ethical reasoning skills; exploring the role of empathy within design, innovation and sustainability; synthesizing the influence of societal and individual worldviews on decision-making; assessing STEM students' learning in the spaces of design, ethics, and sustainability; and exploring the impact of pre-engineering curriculum on students' abilities and career trajectories.

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Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University

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Nicholas D. Fila is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His current research interests include innovation, empathy, and engineering design.

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Discourse on empathy is growing globally, as is its focus within the engineering community. In the context of engineering, scholars have depicted this interpersonal phenomenon as a necessary skill for effectively communicating, a core component of ethical reasoning, and a key technique for designing to meet the needs of users. However, literature regarding its development within engineering is rather limited, and the literature that does exist is disconnected. Even literature outside of engineering tends to focus on childhood development as opposed to adult development. While the developmental literature may tend to focus on earlier ages (likely because this is when an individual most rapidly develops), the endeavor of empathic growth and development need not be abandoned within post-secondary education. Rather, it indicates that we lack an understanding of the ideal means for empathic development later in one’s life.

Given the growing emphasis on the necessity of empathy to thrive as an engineer, engineering educators need to understand the constellation of existing tools and pedagogical techniques to foster empathy within the engineering curriculum. This synthesis piece highlights a variety of educational contexts and pedagogical techniques, each of which we posit are equally salient and mutually supportive for the development of engineering students’ empathic skills, abilities, or dispositions. We draw from literature from a wide variety of fields, including counselling, psychology, moral philosophy, psychotherapy, neuropsychology, and engineering education. In sum, we describe five educational contexts and a myriad of techniques that we posit, when used effectively and spread across engineering curricula, will be effective means towards the development of empathy among engineering students.

Hess, J. L., & Fila, N. D. (2016, June), The Development and Growth of Empathy Among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26120

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