Asee peer logo

Understanding the Role of Mathematics in Engineering Problem Solving

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Curricular Innovations 2

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


DeLean Tolbert Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

visit author page

DeLean Tolbert is a Research Fellow in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Her work intersects both design research and research on the access and experiences of underrepresented communities’ along engineering pathways. Currently, she is exploring how African American youth access capital to develop engineering skills and how those skills can be transferred to engineering education settings.

visit author page


Monica E. Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Monica E. Cardella is the Director of the INSPIRE Institute for Pre-College Engineering Education and is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This NSF-funded study was designed to explore the ways that students from different disciplinary backgrounds engage in mathematical and design thinking as solve a design task. Ultimately, the objective is to understand how mathematics may be an inhibitor or propellant for engineering students as they matriculate through their engineering programs and solve engineering problems. Therefore, design and mathematical thinking behaviors exhibited by engineering and mathematics college students will be investigated in order to characterize these behaviors provide insight into the ways that mathematics can act as a gatekeeper to engineering for some aspiring students.

Data and findings from the non-engineering students will be presented in this paper. Students in engineering majors (n=17) and mathematics majors (n=13) were recruited to work independently on a design task. Data collected from their participation include: video and audio recording, design solution artifacts, pre-study interest survey responses and post-design session interview responses. The final design solutions are being analyzed for solution quality, and the design session video recordings are being analyzed using narrative analysis methods in order to gain insight into the student’s process and understand the design and mathematics behaviors and practices exhibited by students in this study. Ultimately, the research team anticipates making comparisons between design quality, design and mathematics processes revealed through narrative analysis and student responses to post-study interview questions to create an understanding of the role mathematics and design thinking in this task and create a baseline for comparison engineering student’s mathematics and design behaviors in future analysis.

Tolbert, D., & Cardella, M. E. (2017, June), Understanding the Role of Mathematics in Engineering Problem Solving Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29056

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015