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Using Utility Value Interventions to Explore Student Connections to Engineering Mechanics Topics

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 11 - Paper 1: Using Utility Value Interventions to Explore Student Connections to Engineering Mechanics Topics

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Isabella Grace Sorensen California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Isabella Sorensen is a student researcher and a third year Mechanical Engineering undergraduate at California Polytechnic State University - San Luis Obispo. She is extremely passionate about engineering education research and has been working with the CREATE group to synthesize ways to increase retention and support disadvantaged groups within engineering education.

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Dominick Trageser California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo


Brian P. Self California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Brian Self obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Utah. He worked in the Air Force Research Laboratories before teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy for seven years. Brian has taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo since 2006. During the 2011-2012 academic year he participated in a professor exchange, teaching at the Munich University of Applied Sciences. His engineering education interests include collaborating on the Dynamics Concept Inventory, developing model-eliciting activities in mechanical engineering courses, inquiry-based learning in mechanics, and design projects to help promote adapted physical activities. Other professional interests include aviation physiology and biomechanics.

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Benjamin David Lutz California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Orcid 16x16

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Ben D. Lutz is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is the leader of the Critical Research in Engineering and Technology Education (CREATE) group at Cal Poly. His research interests include critical pedagogies; efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering, engineering design theory and practice; conceptual change and understanding; and school-to-work transitions for new engineers. His current work explores a range of engineering education design contexts, including the role of power in brainstorming activities, epistemological and conceptual development of undergraduate learning assistants, as well as the experiences of recent engineering graduates as they navigate new organizational cultures.

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Engineering mechanics courses (e.g., statics and dynamics) are critical foundations within an engineering curriculum and a strong understanding of these topics is often important for success in the broad range of classes that leverage and build on these topics. But students often struggle in these courses for a number of reasons and this point in the curriculum can be a “bottleneck” in terms of student success and progress toward a degree. Utility Value Interventions (UVI) offer an opportunity to increase motivation and success by helping students make concrete connections between what they learn in class and how that learning is personally useful or relevant to them. And while UVIs have shown promise in STEM more broadly, less attention has been given to them in engineering in particular. Helping students see the value of engineering content can help students persist in the face of academic challenges; this is especially true for minoritized groups in STEM. The purpose of this research is to explore the ways students in introductory engineering mechanics courses make connections between their values and their learning and success in those courses. Based on previously validated work in STEM, we developed and distributed UVIs in engineering statics and dynamics courses during the 2020-2021 academic year. The UVI asked students to think about subjects discussed in class and to articulate how those subjects are personally relevant or meaningful to their lives. We conducted a qualitative thematic analysis to explore dominant themes in student responses and organized them in terms of the different ways students perceived the value and relevance of engineering mechanics concepts in their lives. Analysis is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest that UVIs can help students recognize and form rich, meaningful connections between engineering mechanics topics and their personal lives and values. Specifically, students describe connections in terms of 1) personal relevance; 2) a sense of “seeing” mechanics in everyday life; and 3) sociotechnical dimensions of engineering. These themes suggest that when given the space and time, students can form valuable personal connections to the concepts they encounter in introductory engineering mechanics courses in ways that enrich and give meaning to their learning. Such findings are noteworthy because engineering science courses often present content in ways that are removed from authentic contexts that might help students make these vital connections. We recommend that engineering faculty both leverage UVIs in other engineering science courses while also incorporating the findings from the present work to help highlight the diverse ways students might already see connections between abstract concepts and their own lived experiences and values.

Sorensen, I. G., & Trageser, D., & Self, B. P., & Lutz, B. D. (2022, February), Using Utility Value Interventions to Explore Student Connections to Engineering Mechanics Topics Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/1-2--39150

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