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“What can you Teach me?”: (Re)thinking Responses to Difference for Multidisciplinary Teamwork

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Difference, Disability, and (De)Politicization: The Invisible Axes of Diversity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1407.1 - 23.1407.14

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Paper Authors


Julie L Taylor University of Utah

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Julie L. Taylor is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT. She received her M.A. and B.A. from Colorado State University in Communication Studies, Secondary-Education, and certificate in Women’s Studies. Her interests are concerned broadly with organizational communication, gender, and interdisciplinary studies.

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“What can you Teach me?” (Re)thinking Multidisciplinary Responses to Difference  Skillful interdisciplinary collaboration will be paramount for engineers working in a globalsociety.1 Much of their industry work will require they collaborate with people from variousbackgrounds, areas of expertise, gender, ethnicity, etc. Despite the importance of differentperspectives to problem solving it seems that engineers accept difference conditionally.2 That is,individuals who exhibit ways of thinking, doing, and being that are “outside the norms” ofengineering are marginalized within engineering culture.2 This attitude toward difference willpresent challenges for engineers when they enter the workplace. Thus, the question becomes howdo we adequately prepare engineering students for the diversity of values, ideas, and approachesto problem solving that characterize the workforce? The purpose of this project is to explore theconcept of difference as represented through gender.The engineering discipline is commonly characterized as masculine, privileging hard science,objectivity, rationality, hegemonic ideology, and even male bodies.3 This is in juxtaposition tothe more feminine humanities discipline where scholars engage in “soft” science, teach “soft”skills, and embrace subjectivity, emotionality, and female bodies.4 At my institution, we have anine-year history of interdisciplinary collaboration between the Colleges of Engineering andHumanities with the goal of preparing engineering undergraduates for the professional demandsof their work (i.e., communication, writing, and teamwork). This collaboration represents thecoming together of two disparate disciplines and a multidisciplinary teaching team tasked withpreparing students for professional practice. In this way we are modeling difference andexposing students to interdiciplinarity at the classroom level, allowing us to examine studentappreciation of difference.For two years I was a communication instructor in the department of Electrical and Computer(ECE) engineering. I explored how students responded to difference when the attributes of“being an engineer”2 are not met. Less than 10% of faculty and students in this department arefemale, qualifying ECE as a hyper-masculine discipline,5 making this a magnified context forexploring difference. My embodied femininity and “soft” content marked me as other; thisdifference was foregrounded in my daily interactions with students.Data for this project consisted of course evaluation comments, the author’s experience journal,email correspondence, and daily interpersonal communication from students in two requiredjunior and senior level Electrical Engineering classes. A thematic qualitative analysis showedthat engineering students experience dissonance and (re)negotiate their positionality of being anengineer in the presence of difference. This research has implications for how we modelinterdiciplinarity in the classroom. More importantly, results of this project show that acceptanceof difference is conditional and we as educators have more work to do to prepare students for themultidisciplinary work that will be required of them as practicing/professional engineers.References1. Kedrowicz, A. A. (2004). Negotiating comfort in difference: Making the case for interdisciplinary education. Conference Proceedings from the American Society for Engineering Education.2. Godfrey, E., & Parker, L. (2010). Mapping the cultural landscape in engineering education. Journal of Engineering Education, 5-22.3. Tonso, K., (2007). On the outskirts of engineering: Learning identity, gender, and power via engineering practice. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.4. Sullivan, K., & Kedrowicz, A. A. (2010). The female teacher’s body in engineering: Student resistance to identity challenges. Presented at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, San Francisco, CA.5. Hacker, S. (1989). Pleasure, power and technology: Some tales of gender, engineering, and the cooperative workplace. New York: Routledge.  

Taylor, J. L. (2013, June), “What can you Teach me?”: (Re)thinking Responses to Difference for Multidisciplinary Teamwork Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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