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WIP: Engaging Early-career Students in Bioengineering with Student-specific Content

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Intro to Biomedical Engineering and Vertically Integrated Curriculum (Works in Progress) - June 23rd

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Erika M. Pliner University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Erika Pliner is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia. Her research interests are fall prevention in the workplace and among older adults, postural control and sensory reweighting, and engineering education. Erika received her PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, specializing in human movement biomechanics. She received her Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering and Master's in Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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April Dukes University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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April Dukes ( is the Faculty and Future Faculty Program Director for the Engineering Educational Research Center (EERC) and the Institutional Co-leader for Pitt-CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning) at the University of Pittsburgh. April studied at Winthrop University, earning a BS degree in Chemistry and BA degree in Psychology in 2000. She then completed her PhD in 2007 at the University of Pittsburgh, studying oxidative stress in in vitro models of Parkinson's disease. During her prior graduate and postdoctoral work in neurodegeneration, April mentored several undergraduate, graduate, and clinical researchers and developed new methods for imaging and tracking mitochondria from living zebrafish neurons.

In her work for the EERC and Pitt-CIRTL, April Dukes collaborates on educational research projects and facilitates professional development (PD) on instructional and mentoring best practices for current and future STEM faculty. As an adjunct instructor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh since 2009 and an instructor for CIRTL Network and Pitt-CIRTL local programming since 2016, April is experienced in both synchronous and asynchronous online and in-person teaching environments.

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Kurt E. Beschorner University of Pittsburgh

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Dr. Kurt Beschorner is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering at University of Pittsburgh. His research mission is to use competencies in tribology, biomechanics and ergonomics to prevent slip and fall accidents. His teaching mission is to develop and deliver courses that increase student motivation by aligning course content with career goals.

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Arash Mahboobin University of Pittsburgh

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Dr. Mahboobin is an assistant professor at the department of Bioengineering, Swanson School of Engineering. His research interests include computational and experimental human movement biomechanics, bio-signal processing, and engineering education. Specific areas of biomechanics and bio-signal processing research include developing muscle-actuated forward dynamic simulations of gait (normal and pathological), analysis and modeling of human postural control, and time-varying signals and systems. Engineering education research includes curriculum and laboratory development of biomechanics and bio-signal processing concepts.

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Introduction: The number of bachelor’s degrees earned in engineering by women and minorities does not reflect their presence in the US population. This lack of diversity impacts the relevance of engineered solutions to our diverse populations. Thus, there is a need to increase diversity in the engineering field. Engaging underrepresented students in engineering early in their educational careers can transition to a diversity increase in the engineering field.

Tailoring engineering content to students' interests is a potential link to engaging underrepresented students in engineering. Previous research was successful in engaging students with diverse interests by combining arts and storytelling with robotics. Similar to this technique, using student-specific interests may engage students in engineering. The purpose of this study is to investigate student engagement in bioengineering between generic and interest-tailored lectures.

Methods: Students entering the 10th grade who are underrepresented in the engineering field were recruited to participate in a 5-week summer program. Students participated in bioengineering workshops for two hours a day. These workshops included a lecture and hands-on activity. The first three weeks of the program, the students received generic lectures on bioengineering content. The fourth week of the program, the students received interest-tailored lectures on bioengineering content. The students completed engagement surveys between the generic lecture and interest-tailored lecture weeks. Response data from 30 students in the 2017 was assessed.

Prior to the fourth week (interest-tailored lectures), students completed interest forms. Specifically, students were asked to list careers, sports, athletes, celebrities and hobbies that interested them. At least two interests of each student were embedded into the interest-tailored lectures.

Results: Interest-tailored lectures increased student engagement during lecture.

Discussion: Interest-tailored lectures increased student engagement in lecture but had a smaller effect on enjoyment in hands-on activities. Enjoyment in hands-on activities may have not been significantly increased because these activities were not tailored to student interests. This preliminary study suggests that student engagement can be increased by tailoring the delivery of engineering content to student interests. This may be a useful technique in facilitating the growth of diversity in the engineering field.

Pliner, E. M., & Dukes, A., & Beschorner, K. E., & Mahboobin, A. (2020, June), WIP: Engaging Early-career Students in Bioengineering with Student-specific Content Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35537

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