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Work in Progress: Incorporation of Diversity and Inclusion into the Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Curriculum

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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 5 Technical Session 2

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Lisa M. Weber Colorado State University

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I am a PhD Candidate and Instructor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Colorado State University. My research interests include improvements in undergraduate engineering education, diversity and inclusion in undergraduate engineering education, and gaining a quantitative understanding of various aspects of DNA binding interactions and gene expression through computational modeling.

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Rebecca A. Atadero Colorado State University

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Rebecca Atadero is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University, specializing in structural engineering. She conducts research on the inspection, management and renewal of existing structures, and on diversity, equity and diversity in engineering education.

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Improving diversity in engineering is crucial for more inclusive engineering designs as well as for society as a whole because “without diversity, we limit the set of life experiences that are applied, and as a result we pay an opportunity cost—a cost in products not built, in designs not considered, in constraints not understood, and in processes not invented.” [1]. In order to achieve a more diverse and inclusive engineering workforce, as well as improve retention of diverse students in engineering programs, incorporating diversity-related topics in engineering curriculum in higher education is imperative. There are many important topics and concepts that all engineering students should be familiar with and ready to carry into the workplace, not only those students holding one or more identities underrepresented in engineering. In particular, it is important for engineering students to be taught about diversity and inclusion in required engineering courses and by engineering faculty and instructors.

There are specific types of knowledge and skills that can help individuals recognize cultural barriers to inclusion and work more effectively with difference. For example, every person has implicit, or unconscious, biases which can impact their thoughts, actions, and behaviors towards others in spite of the person’s conscious, external values and beliefs. Implicit biases are “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner” [2]. It is, therefore, imperative to educate students about implicit biases and their ability to unconsciously impact one’s thoughts and actions.

Additionally, the ability to work well in teams, which requires interpersonal skills, is crucial for an engineer in both academia and a professional setting, regardless of industry [3-7]. Building a strong interpersonal skill set entails recognizing the value every individual and their unique perspective contributes to the team, having an understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses, clearly and effectively communicating ideas, actively listening to the ideas of others, and exhibiting sensitivity regarding differences; broadly, a successful team requires an appreciation for the value of diversity within the group to achieve its goals and an inclusive mindset. While the need for engineering students to be able to work in teams has long been recognized, engineering education has not always sought to develop teamwork as a skill. Simply placing students in teams for project work and laboratories is insufficient without also educating students on implicit biases and providing tools to enable them to gain the interpersonal skills necessary for successful interpersonal interactions [9,10].

Incorporating diversity and inclusion topics so that students learn the critical interpersonal skills necessary to foster a supportive and respectful team environment, however, can be a challenge in an academic engineering environment in which nearly all of the course content is highly technical. Although effective teamwork and implicit bias are just two components of the broader concepts of diversity and inclusion in engineering, the ease with which they can be incorporated into both non-technical and technical course content make them a good starting point for introducing these concepts in engineering curricula. Additional possible topics to incorporate diversity and inclusion into engineering curriculum can include case studies which demonstrate the importance of diversity in engineering design, discussions regarding the benefits of inclusive language, assignments on recognizing and understanding the impact of microaggressions, as well as shedding light on challenges that affect women and underrepresented populations, such as pay discrepancies in industry.

In this work-in-progress, as part of an NSF supported initiative, we implement a variety of approaches for incorporating activities and assignments to help students learn about implicit biases, as well as recognize and appreciate the value of inclusion and diversity in engineering. These activities and assignments have initially been implemented in first-year and second-year chemical and biological engineering (CBE) courses at (Our University name here) University, with a goal of incorporating these topics throughout all four years of the chemical and biological engineering curriculum in the future. The approach utilized in each individual course, however, is dependent upon both the structure and the content of the course. In addition, we have taken a variety of approaches in different courses in an effort to improve student participation by decreasing repetition and redundancy in assignments and activities.

In the first-year course, Introduction to Chemical and Biological Engineering, we include multiple diversity related topics because the structure of the course more easily allows for the addition of non-technical course content. To introduce the concept of implicit bias, we incorporated an activity in the lab sections, which enabled us to implement the activity for smaller groups of students. In this activity, the students watch a video introducing implicit bias, after which they take multiple Harvard Implicit Association Tests (IATs) [8], participate in a group discussion, and answer reflection questions regarding their test results. Additionally, an interactive theatre sketch of a dysfunctional team interaction is performed, with trained facilitators guiding the activity [7]. Regular surveys are also incorporated into the course to assess these various activities.

In the first-year computing course, Introduction to MATLAB for Chemical and Biological Engineers, the students perform multiple assignments in which they apply the programming skills learned in the course to analyze the gender-pay gap as a result of different starting pay rates, annual raises, and promotion periods. The students are also asked to answer reflection questions regarding their results.

In the second-year courses, Material and Energy Balances as well as Thermodynamic Process Analysis, incorporating these topics is more challenging as a result of the highly technical course content. The frequent group projects in these courses has allowed incorporation of diversity related topics with a series of reflection questions after each project. In the first course, the reflection questions address individual behavior within the group, interactions with team members, demonstration of respect for group members’ contributions, and overall inclusion of group members. These questions are designed to promote a growth mindset in how the students view their individual group contributions, as well as interactions within the group. In the second course, the reflection questions are focused more on developing an understanding and appreciation in students of the unique perspectives and experiences each member has, how these affect how they approach a problem, and that the diversity within the group can help the group to more effectively achieve its goals. This is an easily implemented strategy for enabling students to learn effective teamwork skills while not infringing on the technical course content. Reflecting on their experiences interacting with their classmates and working in groups can provide students’ insight into their individual strengths and weaknesses, help them in communicating their ideas more effectively, and can provide improved understanding into what skills, actions, and strategies are useful for creating a more open, supportive, and respectful team environment.

In the future, we hope to implement the concepts of diversity and inclusion throughout third-year courses, such as lab courses which entirely consist of group assignments, as well as senior design. Incorporating these concepts throughout the entire curriculum, however, has presented several challenges, aside from the extremely technical course content and course structure. In order to introduce these topics into a particular course, faculty must not only recognize the value of addressing these topics, but must also be willing to make adjustments within their course structure to accommodate these topics in some form. Demonstrating the minimal course changes necessary for incorporation of these topics as well as the value added as a result of introducing these topics into the curriculum in first- and second-year courses may help assuage some of the resistance encountered by some faculty of upper-level courses. Broad incorporation into the curriculum, however, requires significant coordination and collaboration with and between faculty members within the CBE department to determine the best approach for each course and to avoid redundancy across courses that may result in decreased student participation, which will continue to be an ongoing process.


[1] W. W. Wulf, “Diversity in engineering,” Leadership and Management in Engineering, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 31–35, 2001.

[2] C. Staats, K. Capatosto, R. A. Wright, and V. W. Jackson, “State of the science: Implicit bias review,” The Ohio State University: Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Tech. Rep., 2016.

[3] E. Seat, J. R. Parsons, and W. A. Poppen, “Enabling engineering performance skills: A program to teach communication, leadership, and teamwork*,” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 90, no. 1, pp. 7–12, 2001.

[4] A. C. to the National Science Foundation, “Shaping the future: New expectations for undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology,” National Science Foundation (NSF), Tech. Rep. NSF 96-139, 1996.

[5] C. Meyers, “Restructuring engineering education: A focus on change,” National Science Foundation (NSF), Report of an NSF workshop on Engineering Education NSF 95-65, April 1995.

[6] “Comparison of proposal submitted in 2015 to proposal submitted in 2016,” ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC), Tech. Rep., 2016.

[7] K. E. Rambo-Hernandez, A. Roy, M. L. Morris, R. A. M. Hensel, J. C. Schwartz, R. A. Atadero, and C. Paguyo, “Using interactive theater to promote inclusive behaviors in teams for first-year engineering students: A sustainable approach,” in 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference. Crystal City, Virginia: ASEE Conferences, April 2018,

[8] “Project implicit,”

[9] C. Seron, S. S. Silbey, E. Cech, and B. Rubineau, “Persistence is cultural: Professional socialization and the reproduction of sex segregation,” Work and Occupations, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 178–214, 2016.

[10] N. Dasgupta, M. M. Scircle, and M. Hunsinger, “Female peers in small work groups enhance women’s motivation, verbal participation, and career aspirations in engineering,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 112, no. 16, pp. 4988–4993, 2015.

Weber, L. M., & Atadero, R. A. (2021, January), Work in Progress: Incorporation of Diversity and Inclusion into the Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day .

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