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Unique Potential and Challenges of Students with ADHD in Engineering Programs

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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

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Arash Esmaili Zaghi P.E. University of Connecticut

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Dr. Arash E. Zaghi received his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, where he worked on the seismic behavior of novel bridge column and connection details. After graduating, he stayed with UNR as a Research Scientist to overlook two major research projects involving system-level shake table experiments. In 2011, Dr. Zaghi joined the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Connecticut as an Assistant Professor. His research interests include: application of novel materials and systems for multi-hazard mitigation, design of bridges for extreme events and innovative repair techniques for aging bridges. Dr. Zaghi’s research on next-generation bridge column systems and innovative bridge repair techniques was recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). His latest research endeavor, however, is on the different subject of fostering creativity in engineering education focusing on potential and challenges of engineering students with ADHD. His research has been highlighted in Up Close of the Prism Magazine of American Society of Engineering Education.

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Sally M. Reis University of Connecticut

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Sally M. Reis is the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology at The University of Connecticut. She holds the Letitia N. Morgan Chair and is well known for her work on academically talented students. She was Principal Investigator for the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented for 20 years and has authored or co-authored over 250 articles, books, book chapters, and technical reports. Her administrative responsibilities include all academic programs as well as Honors and Enrichment, Student Success, Career Development, Institutional Research and Analysis, Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Summer Programs.

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Joseph S. Renzulli University of Connecticut

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Joseph Renzulli is the Neag Professor of Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Connecticut where he also serves as the Director of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. He has been a member of the World Council since its inception, and he has presented papers at most of the World Council meetings. He has served on the editorial board of Gifted and Talented International and has also helped organize and participate in international meetings sponsored by the World Council. Dr. Renzulli has served on numerous editorial boards in the fields of gifted education, educational psychology and research, and law and education and he also served as a Senior Research Associate for the White House Task Force on Education for the Gifted and Talented. He was a Board of Directors member of the National Association for Gifted Children for several years and currently serves as the Finance Chair for that organization. Renzulli's major research interests are in identification and programming models for gifted and talented students. He has contributed numerous books and articles to the literature and has been active in professional association activities at the state, national, and international levels.

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James C Kaufman University of Connecticut

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James C. Kaufman ( is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut. He is the author/editor of more than 20 books and 200 papers on creativity. Kaufman is the President of APA’s Division 10 and was the co-founding editor of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. He is currently the founding editor of Psychology of Popular Media Culture. His awards include the 2003 Daniel E. Berlyne Award and the 2012 Paul Farnsworth Award from APA’s Division 10, the 2008 E. Paul Torrance Award from the National Association of Gifted Children, the 2011-2012 Mensa Education & Research Foundation’s Award for Excellence in Research, and the 2009 Early Career Research Award from the Western Psychological Association.

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A critical need exists in engineering education to draw on the non-traditional divergent thinking and risk- taking necessary for making radical technological breakthroughs. Literature suggests that individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) characteristics demonstrate unparalleled creativity and risk-taking potential. While this group of students may offer significant benefits to the advancement of the nation, they are currently significantly underrepresented in engineering programs because of the major academic and emotional challenges that the rigidly structured engineering programs impose on them. Funded by the Division of Engineering Education and Centers of the National Science Foundation, this study is aimed at understanding creative potential and challenges of engineering students with ADHD characteristics.

A cohort of 18 female and 36 male undergraduate students were recruited from the School of Engineering at the University of Connecticut (n=54). To quantify the level of ADHD-related characteristics and the creative potential of the participants, the investigators administered Brown ADD Scales for Adults and Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) Figural Form A, respectively. A 40-question instrument was designed and administered to understand the learning styles, the perception of current engineering programs in terms of rewarding creativity and risk-taking, and the difficulties of the participants in engineering programs. It was found that there is a statistically significant positive correlation between the Brown total score and the Creativity Index (r = .45, p = .001). Among Brown subscale scores, attention was found to have the largest correlation with the Creativity Index. There were positive significant correlations with the Creativity Index and all of the Brown subscales except for memory. The Brown scores were found to have positive significant correlations with three of the TTCT sub-categories; fluency, originality, and resistance to premature closure. A negative correlation exists between the GPA and total Brown score, suggesting weaker academic accomplishments of students with ADHD characteristics. GPA showed no correlation with the Creativity Index, suggesting a lack of creativity appreciation in current engineering programs. The Mann-Whitney test on survey questions revealed that students with a higher Brown t-score are significantly more willing to take a chance in which they may fail in order to pursue innovation. This study found that only three of the eighteen students who are formally diagnosed with ADHD are receiving services from the Center of Students with Disabilities CSD. It is expected that the outcomes of this study lead to a paradigm shift in how these individuals are perceived by both our society and our engineering educational system. The knowledge generated through this study will help identifying the academic struggles of this group of students and facilitate development of specialized education programs that foster largely unrecognized talents and unique potential of this underrepresented population.

Esmaili Zaghi, A., & Reis, S. M., & Renzulli, J. S., & Kaufman, J. C. (2016, June), Unique Potential and Challenges of Students with ADHD in Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27107

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