Dr. Lisa Lattuca, along with colleagues from the College of Engineering Dr. Shanna Daly, Dr. Joi-Lynn Mondisa, and postdoctoral researcher Dr. Erika Mosyjowski, will investigate how engineering curricula and instruction represent engineering practice and how these representations align with students’ values and interests to affect their sense of belonging and intentions to persist in the field.
While much scholarship on engineering education has focused on the composition of engineering communities and how to support students academically and socially to encourage enrollment and retention in the field, fewer studies have examined how the content of engineering courses shapes students’ understanding of the field and their place in it. This project will study how core engineering courses in two fields represent engineering work to students and the messages that engineering students take from these courses about who engineers are and what they do.
Engineering training often emphasizes the development of a narrow set of technical skills while overlooking equally important skills such as contextual and cultural competence, ethical responsibility, creativity, social and environmental awareness, collaboration, and transdisciplinary competence. This narrow emphasis not only has implications for engineers’ abilities to appropriately address complex sociotechnical problems but also risks alienating students, often women and minoritized students, who are most motivated by the ways engineering can be used to improve people’s lives and the world.
Messages about the nature of engineering work may be particularly important to students who enter engineering programs with the goal of engaging in socially relevant engineering problems but who repeatedly encounter engineering courses that emphasize technical content while neglecting to consider the complexities of creating engineering solutions that are viable given complex social, cultural and environmental contexts. Such courses may also fail to help students develop the “comprehensive engineering skills” needed to address these sociotechnical problems. To encourage realistic and varied portrayals of the nature of engineering work, it is first necessary to understand how the messages students typically receive about the nature of engineering work in their courses affect students’ sense of belonging, and ultimately their intentions to persist, in the field. Replacing narrow views of engineering work with complex representations that acknowledge the sociocultural dimensions of engineering problems and the need for a broader set of engineering competencies may encourage students with a variety of interests and talents to remain in engineering.