Award Announcement - IUSE/PFE:RED Revolutionizing Engineering Education through Industry Immersion and a Focus on Identity

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Award Materials

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The culture of a program or department plays a significant role in effective, inclusive, and innovative STEM education. Despite immense efforts to diversify the student body in engineering programs, research suggests that department culture continues to challenge engineering education and the educators who are preparing the next generation of engineers. For example, too often engineering departments reflect a narrow, stereotypical view of what it means to be an engineer. Women and other underrepresented minorities who do not fit this view do not identify with engineering and this can lead to dissatisfaction and disengagement. This project implements a unique educational experience where students and faculty are immersed in a culture of doing engineering with industry engineers that in turn fosters an identity of being an engineer. This new culture will be created through a shared department vision and a deep immersion in industry and engineering practice. Some of the changes include faculty participation in industry, makeathons that connect industry professionals with students, and changes in how the department prioritizes teaching, student research, industry connections, and faculty mentoring. Along with these activities, this project serves to investigate the effects of this new culture on the identity of students and faculty, and how these identity changes affect students' engagement, performance, and commitment to engineering. Identity describes who people think they are, what they think they can do and be, and where and with whom they think they belong. It is a pivotal factor in one's commitment and persistence in engineering, notably for women and minorities. Identity development is a social process realized through culture. Understanding how identities affect students, particularly females, could transform how we teach STEM K-16. Such knowledge will allow educators to target activities that produce the strongest effect on identity and be mindful of those that negatively impact identity. The result is better retention for a more diverse student body.

More specifically, during the project, changes to the engineering program and to student and faculty identities will be monitored through interviews, surveys, and many other tools. Results of the study will lead to a clearer understanding of the changes that promote engineering identities, particularly in women, and how such identities affect students' sense of belonging in a program and their persistence in the major. The study will also lead to a better understanding of the factors that influence faculty identity, and how these richer identities affect how they view their roles and their students. Key activities of this project include: (1) the creation of opportunities for students to do realistic engineering, (2) an industry immersion experience for faculty and teacher training, (3) revising the curriculum to include connections to practice, (4) and implementing reflection and portfolios for assessment of professional engineering identity development. In the curriculum, this immersion will be achieved by integrating experiential learning throughout as the connecting thread. Housed in a mechanical engineering department, this project has the potential to impact engineering education by offering a model and best practices in which the engineering identities of students and faculty can be transformed by the immersion in real-world engineering. This project is jointly funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education; the Division of Engineering Education and Centers; the Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation; the Division of Electrical, Communications and Cyber Systems; and the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships; reflecting the alignment of this project with the respective goals of the divisions and their programs.