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WIP: Understanding Impact of a Design-thinking Intervention on Students’ Resilience

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 10

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Kristin Maria Repchick Industrial/Organizational Psychology Consultant

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Dr. Kristin Repchick completed her Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at George Mason University (GMU) where she also obtained her Masters degree. She currently works as an independent consultant and has partnered with various agencies in the DC metro area on projects requiring HR analytics or talent management strategies. Kristin has several years of experience analyzing workforce data, creating and validating assessments for employee selection and development, and working with clients to better leverage organizational talent.

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Lauren Q. DiBianca Frye Forsyth Country Day School

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Lauren Frye is a licensed architect and educator practicing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She holds a bachelor of arts in architecture degree from Princeton University and an MArch degree from the University of Virginia. After practicing architecture for ten years, Lauren followed her long time passion for education and began teaching design thinking to high school students, prototyping courses at Forsyth Country Day School. She co-founded the Community Design Studio of Winston-Salem, a nonprofit collaborative bringing design thinking to bear on community challenges through strategic partnerships and deep listening. Lauren lives in Winston-Salem with her husband, Danny, and two boys who inspire her daily.

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Elise Barrella P.E. Wake Forest University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Elise Barrella is the founder and CEO of DfX Consulting LLC which offers engineering education and design research, planning and consulting services. She is a registered Professional Engineer and was a Founding Faculty member of the Department of Engineering at Wake Forest University. She is passionate about curriculum development, scholarship and student mentoring on transportation systems, sustainability, and engineering design. Dr. Barrella completed her Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech where she conducted research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). In addition to the Ph.D. in Civil Engineering, Dr. Barrella holds a Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology and a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University. Dr. Barrella has investigated best practices in engineering education since 2003 (at Bucknell University) and began collaborating on sustainable engineering design research while at Georgia Tech. Prior to joining the WFU faculty, she led the junior capstone design sequence at James Madison University, was the inaugural director of the NAE Grand Challenges Program at JMU, and developed first-year coursework and interdisciplinary electives.

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Recent developmental psychology research has revealed that current generations of children and young adults appear to be more sheltered from challenging opportunities, and as a result, may be less able to cope with stress and adversity than earlier generations. This trend is particularly problematic, as these generations will likely be unprepared for the demanding and dynamic environment of many jobs when they enter the workforce. Students who have less experience with failure or setbacks are less likely to develop key adaptive skills that are pertinent to a dynamic working environment and a world of open-ended problems. Similar research shows that resilience is one of the key traits of people who are successful in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Shifting educational instruction to focus on building adaptive skills such as resilience could address this issue. Design-thinking based instruction has shown promise for enabling students to develop resilience by providing opportunities to successfully navigate and overcome adverse situations in a safe environment. In design-thinking based courses, students participate in activities where they have the opportunity to 1) empathize with others, 2) try multiple ideas, 3) work with others, 4) receive constructive feedback, 5) reflect on what they have learned and 6) revise their solutions in order to improve their problem-solving approach. Each of these elements prioritizes adaptive skills over factual knowledge, and 2, 4, 5, and 6 in particular relate to aspects of resilience.

Our current effort aims to examine the effects of a design-thinking course on a particular aspect of student resilience: failure tolerance. A course was designed to expose students to five steps of the design process: empathize, define, iterate, prototype, validate. While engaging in these steps, students can learn to tolerate ambiguity, handle uncertainty, and navigate failure - all skills that make up accepted definitions of resilience. Preliminary pre and post data from a week-long summer version of the course found primarily positive, albeit small, changes in failure tolerance from the beginning to the end of the course for a small group of students. The largest changes were seen for the preferred difficulty factor of failure tolerance, indicating a greater preference for more difficult tasks after completing the course. Students’ negative perceptions of failure also tended to decrease after completing the course. The summer course provided an opportunity to test a modified resilience survey instrument with high school students interested in design, architecture, and engineering studies.

A study is currently in progress with a larger group of students that will examine changes in failure tolerance over the course of a year-long class. Our work-in-progress paper will share details of the summer course design and assessment, including the selection and modification of the resilience instrument. The paper will also briefly describe the research design of the pilot study and potential benefits of using the resilience instrument for course assessment and individualized mentoring of students.

Repchick, K. M., & Frye, L. Q. D., & Barrella, E. (2020, June), WIP: Understanding Impact of a Design-thinking Intervention on Students’ Resilience Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35577

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