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Working as a Team: Enhancing Interdisciplinarity for the Engineer of 2020

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Technical Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1711.1 - 22.1711.26



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Paper Authors

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Lisa R. Lattuca Pennsylvania State University, University Park


Lois Calian Trautvetter Northwestern University

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Lois Calian Trautvetter.

Assistant Professor of Education and Director, Higher Education Administration and Policy Program, Northwestern University. Email:

Dr. Trautvetter studies faculty development and productivity issues, including those that enhance teaching and research, motivation, and new and junior faculty development. She also studies gender issues in the STEM disciplines.

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Sarah L. Codd Montana State University


David B. Knight Pennsylvania State University, University Park Orcid 16x16

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David Knight is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education Program at Pennsylvania State University and is a graduate research assistant on two NSF-funded engineering education projects. His research interests include STEM education, interdisciplinary teaching and research, organizational issues in higher education, and leadership and administration in higher education. Email:

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Carla M. Cortes Northwestern University

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Carla Cortes serves as an instructor and research associate in the Higher Education Administration & Policy program at Northwestern University. She also conducts analysis and manages projects for DePaul University's Division of Enrollment Management and Marketing.

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Working as a Team: Enhancing Interdisciplinarity for the Engineer of 2020For the past few decades, government, business, and professional societies have called forimprovements of engineering education in the United States, leading to revisions of ABET’saccreditation criteria through Engineering Criteria 2000 (Engineering AccreditationCommission, 1998). EC2000’s Criterion 3.d requires all engineering programs to prepareundergraduate engineers to work in multidisciplinary teams. The Engineer of 2020 (NationalAcademy of Engineering, 2004), however, suggests that multidisciplinary teamwork isinsufficient for addressing today’s complex engineering problems. Instead, interdisciplinarythinking and teamwork are needed to address problems that require knowledge from a widerange of disciplines inside and outside engineering and to understand the constraints of socialsystems with varying economic, legal and political dimensions. Although the results of onenational study indicate that students’ teamwork skills have increased, there is little empiricalresearch examining the extent to which students learn to synthesize and use knowledge fromdifferent fields. In this paper, we report findings on the curricular, pedagogical, cultural, andorganizational features that enhance students’ interdisciplinary skills.Interdisciplinarity can be defined as a perspective, practice, or problem-solving approach thatutilizes knowledge and modes of inquiry drawn from more than one disciplinary perspective.Interdisciplinary competence is multidimensional, including an appreciation of disciplinaryperspectives, as well as the abilities to evaluate different disciplinary approaches in problem-solving, to recognize the strengths or weaknesses of one's disciplinary perspective, and toidentify the shared assumptions, skills, or knowledge among disciplines.Findings are drawn from two companion studies that examined curricular, instructional, andorganizational conditions in engineering programs: Prototype to Production: Processes andConditions for Preparing the Engineer of 2020 (P2P) and Prototyping the Engineer of 2020: A360-degree Study of Effective Education (P360). P2P collected data from more than 100engineering programs in 30 four-year engineering schools, while P360 collected qualitative datafrom six case studies to provide specific examples of effective curricular and co-curricularlearning experiences. Case studies were conducted at institutions empirically shown to benational leaders in aspects of undergraduate engineering education. Both studies collected datafrom multiple sources: faculty, program chairs, administrators, and undergraduate engineeringstudents.P2P results show that focusing on interdisciplinary connections in the undergraduate curriculumcan enhance students’ interdisciplinary competence. Controlling for institutional type, size, anddiscipline, three OLS regressions show that an emphasis on “broad perspectives” in engineeringcurricula positively influences multidisciplinary teamwork skills, interdisciplinary teamwork,and interdisciplinary skills.Data from the case studies offers examples of interdisciplinary curricular approaches.Purposefully-designed general education requirements or courses that were joint offerings byfaculty from different disciplines enabled students to explore different perspectives and instillbroad thinking, while general engineering degree programs helped students recognizecomplementary perspectives in solving problems. The case studies also provide examples ofhow interdisciplinary skills are taught in team-based projects that incorporate students fromdisciplines such as business and art. Analyses of the P2P data confirm that using multi- orinterdisciplinary teams in design courses positively influences students’ multidisciplinary teamwork skills, providing empirical support for Borrego and Newswander’s (2010) assertion that interdisciplinarity in science and engineering is operationalized through teamwork. References Borrego, M. & Newswander, L.K. (2010). Definitions of interdisciplinary research: Toward graduate-level interdisciplinary learning outcomes. The Review of Higher Education 34(1), 61-84. Engineering Accreditation Commission. (1998). Engineering criteria 2000: Criteria for accrediting programs in engineering in the United States (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Engineering Accreditation Commission, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. National Academy of Engineering (2004). The engineer of 2020: Visions of engineering in the new century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.  

Lattuca, L. R., & Trautvetter, L. C., & Codd, S. L., & Knight, D. B., & Cortes, C. M. (2011, June), Working as a Team: Enhancing Interdisciplinarity for the Engineer of 2020 Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18898

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