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Work in Progress: Departmental Analysis of Factors of Engineering Culture

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Engineering Education Culture: Mental Health, Inclusion, and the Soul of Our Community

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Isabel Miller University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

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Isabel Miller (she/her) is pursuing a MS in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, having received her Bachelors in Bioengineering in 2021 from UIUC. She is interested in student mental health and wellness.

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Kelly J. Cross University of Nevada, Reno

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Dr. Cross is currently an Assistant Professor in the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at the University Nevada Reno. After completing her PhD in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech in 2015, Dr. Cross worked as a post-doctoral researcher with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education and in the Department of Bioengineering with the Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) grant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Cross' scholarship investigated student teams in engineering, faculty communities of practice, and the intersectionality of multiple identity dimensions. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion in STEM, intersectionality, teamwork and communication skills, assessment, and identity construction. Her teaching philosophy focuses on student centered approaches such as culturally relevant pedagogy. Dr. Cross' complimentary professional activities promote inclusive excellence through collaboration.

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Karin Jensen University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Karin Jensen, Ph.D. is a Teaching Assistant Professor in bioengineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include student mental health and wellness, engineering student career pathways, and engagement of engineering faculty in engineering education research. She was awarded a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation for her research on undergraduate mental health in engineering programs. Before joining UIUC she completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Sanofi Oncology in Cambridge, MA. She earned a bachelor's degree in biological engineering from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University of Virginia.

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Studies of engineering education culture describe an expectation of harshness coupled with continuous struggles throughout the educational experience [1]. The rigor and selectivity of engineering programs perpetuates a “meritocracy of difficulty” [2] where student success can be interpreted as “being able to take it” [1]. Heavy workloads and high expectations create an environment of “suffering and shared hardship” or boot camp mentality [1]. This negative culture has been described as particularly unwelcoming to groups underrepresented in engineering [3, 4] . Despite intense efforts over the last few decades, representation in engineering does not match the population, with participation rates varying by engineering discipline. Despite the importance of culture in recruitment and retention in engineering programs, limited work has analyzed the differences in culture across engineering disciplines. In this project, we sought to bridge this research gap to identify features of disciplinary subcultures in engineering. The goal of this analysis is to explore how mental health, perceptions of inclusion, and engineering identity differ by department. This work is part of a larger mixed methods study that seeks to understand the role of mental health in engineering culture. We surveyed over 1,000 undergraduate engineering students across 11 departments. The survey included measures of engineering identity, intention to pursue an engineering career, self-reported stress, anxiety, depression, and perceptions of inclusion. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov and Shapiro-Wilk tests for normality found the data to not be normally distributed and indicated the data were suitable for nonparametric analysis. A Kruskal-Wallis test was performed for each factor grouping by department to identify if there was a difference of average factor rankings between departments and Chi-square tests were conducted to test for association between departments and self-reported mental health measures. Average rankings for engineering career, department caring, department pride, and diversity were found to be significantly different between multiple departments. Anxiety, stress, and depression rankings were found to not vary significantly between any of the departments. Engineering identity was significant before adjustment between some departments, but no difference between departments were significant when adjusted by the Bonferroni correction. Overall, these results suggest that engineering disciplines have distinct cultures and that engineering departments can influence perceptions of inclusion.

Miller, I., & Cross, K. J., & Jensen, K. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Departmental Analysis of Factors of Engineering Culture Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38137

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