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Weaving Students into Engineering, not Weeding Them Out

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2023 Collaborative Network for Computing and Engineering Diversity (CoNECD)


New Orleans , Louisiana

Publication Date

February 26, 2023

Start Date

February 26, 2023

End Date

February 28, 2023

Conference Session

Session 9 - Track 1: Weaving Students into Engineering, not Weeding Them Out

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Jenna P. Carpenter Campbell University

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Dr. Carpenter is Founding Dean of Engineering at Campbell University. She is 2022-2023 President of ASEE and past President of WEPAN. She is a former NSF ADVANCE PI and was a co-recipient of the 2022 National Academy of Engineering's Bernard M. Gordon Award for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for her role in launching the Grand Challenges Scholars Program. She is an ASEE PEV for General Engineering, Dr. Carpenter regularly speaks at the national level on issues related to the success of women in engineering and innovative STEM curricula.

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Weaving Students into Engineering, not Weeding Them Out

Keywords: admissions, onboarding, demographics, weed-out

Historically, engineering programs have weeded out all but the perceived brightest and best, believing that many students who wanted to major in engineering did not have what it takes. While engineering programs have broadened their view of which students have potential, and dropped some overt weed-out practices, today many structures, policies, mindsets, and approaches in engineering education still echo the weed-out philosophy. As a result, our institutions largely focus on admitting and educating students who have enjoyed the most pre-college opportunities, not those with the most ability.

It is unacceptable to waste US engineering talent. Additionally, demographic, economic, and social issues are converging to make these legacy weed out practices no longer viable: 1) The declining US birth rate, resulting in fewer high school graduates over the next two decades, 2) Demographic data on college students showing i) increases in populations that engineering has historically struggled to attract, and ii) declines in the populations that engineering has historically successfully attracted, 3) Increasing and changing workforce needs and complex societal problems that require a larger and more diverse engineering talent pool, and 4) The critical mass of interest around access, equity, belonging, and social justice, given that i) an engineering degree provides opportunity to increase economic and social mobility for families and communities, and ii) limiting who gets to design influential, widely used technologies results in poor decisions which negatively impact people’s lives, safety, and well-being.

To become student-ready engineering programs (versus waiting for engineering-ready students), we must 1) admit a more diverse array of students with varied pre-college opportunities, and 2) provide supportive environments and experiences to help them succeed.

A series of brainstorming sessions in Spring 2022 identified three focus areas for this effort: admissions practices, onboarding of students, and student skills development. We are developing a framework for packaging, implementing, and disseminating research-based programs that support admissions, onboarding, and education of diverse cohorts engineering students with a broad range of pre-college preparation and opportunities. We hope to consider 1) institutional cultural resistance to widening admissions and creating multiple educational pathways for engineering majors, 2) intersectionality of multiple identities and other barriers (funding, staff, time) to adaptation and implementation of existing research-based strategies, 3) differing challenges across institution types, and 4) potential use of technology to support implementation of specific research-based strategies. This year, ERVA (Engineering Research Visioning Alliance) is hosting a listening session to collect student voices. The Engineering Societies Education Roundtable Pathways Task Force is interested in supporting this work. The NAE (National Academy of Engineering) is partnering with ASEE to host an NSF-funded convening of national experts to develop the initial draft framework, to be followed by virtual sessions to collect additional input and feedback. Subsequently, we will apply for additional funding to develop and roll-out the framework, as well as support institutions in use of framework initiatives to diversity their engineering student bodies. This talk will provide an overview and update of efforts to date, as well as next steps for this initiative.

Carpenter, J. P. (2023, February), Weaving Students into Engineering, not Weeding Them Out Paper presented at 2023 Collaborative Network for Computing and Engineering Diversity (CoNECD), New Orleans , Louisiana. 10.18260/1-2--44814

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