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Who is Smart? High School Science and Engineering Students’ Beliefs about Smartness

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 2 Slot 1 Technical Session 3

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Amy Kramer P.E. Ohio State University

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Amy Kramer is a graduate student and research associate at The Ohio State University in the Department of Engineering Education. She earned a B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from The Ohio State University in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Most recently she worked as a structural engineering consultant in Columbus, OH where she specialized in the design of reinforced concrete and steel structures. Her current research interests in Engineering Education include engineering identity, beliefs about smartness, epistemic beliefs, diversity and inclusion, and engineering culture.

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Emily Dringenberg Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Dringenberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Ohio State University. She holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering (Kansas State '08), an M.S. in Industrial Engineering (Purdue '14) and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education (Purdue ’15). Her team, Beliefs in Engineering Research Group (BERG) utilizes qualitative methods to explore beliefs in engineering. Her research has an overarching goal of leveraging engineering education research to shift the culture of engineering to be more realistic and inclusive. Dr. Dringenberg is also interested in decision making, growth mindset, engineering culture, and race and gender in engineering. She is always excited to learn new things and work with motivated individuals from diverse backgrounds to improve the experiences of people in engineering education at any level.

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The purpose of this research paper is to present findings from an exploratory, qualitative study of high school students’ beliefs about smartness. The construct of smartness, which is deeply embedded into all levels of engineering education culture, reflects normative values and can act as a gatekeeper in engineering. Despite the decades of research to broaden participation in engineering education, very little research has explicitly explored the construct of smartness within the context of engineering education and its’ exclusionary implications. For this research paper, we focused on the beliefs of high school students as selection of a collegiate major is often chosen during high school and student beliefs about smartness have serious implications for who considers themselves smart enough (or not) to pursue an engineering degree. Although constructions of smartness intersect with race, class, gender, and other social identities, for this exploratory study we chose to investigate the role of gender in the construction of smartness. We utilized semi-structured, one-on-one interviews to explore 22 students’ beliefs about smartness with the aim of addressing the following research questions: 1) What do high school science and engineering students believe about smartness? and 2) How do the beliefs about smartness of these students who identify as male and female differ, if at all?

The major findings of this study are: 1) students’ beliefs about smartness are complex and divergent, 2) students’ beliefs about smartness are related to their interpretations of social indicators of smartness, their epistemic beliefs, and their mindset beliefs, and 3) students who identity as male and female socialized in the same academic environment do not construct smartness in distinctly different ways; however, they may be impacted by smartness very differently based on the stereotypes that exist in their environment. For scholars, a major implication of this research is that when studying smartness, epistemic beliefs, mindset beliefs, and interpretations of social indicators of smartness should all be considered. For the broader community, this contribution provides further evidence for our research agenda of drawing attention to how beliefs about smartness are complex and have exclusionary implications. Social dynamics and ultimately social identities (i.e., gender, race, class, etc.) are interconnected with the social construction of smartness, and therefore, we all must be mindful about how we contribute to the construction of smartness in our academic environments.

Kramer, A., & Dringenberg, E. (2021, January), Who is Smart? High School Science and Engineering Students’ Beliefs about Smartness Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36142

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