(73b) Towards Inclusive Engineering Education and Practice: Examining Engineering Culture

Authors: 
Bothwell, M., Oregon State University
Miller, B., Oregon State University
Koretsky, M. D., Oregon State University
Montfort, D., Oregon State University
Nolen, S., University of Washington
Sweeney, J., Oregon State University
The lack of diversity in engineering education and practice is a durable problem, and while a lot of effort and money has been directed towards â??broadening participation,â? little progress has been made. It is clear that new framings and new strategies need to be designed and implemented in order to move the engineering profession toward greater inclusion of marginalized groups. Several years ago NSF began introducing a number of initiatives calling for generation of strategies that would confront the systems and structures that reproduce social inequality in engineering education and practice, including manifestations of racism, sexism, and ableism in engineering, and also classism, heteronormativity, ageism, and obstacles faced by Veterans and other non-traditional groups (NSF Dear Colleague Letter, 2014). This necessarily requires the focus of efforts to shift from the goal of achieving diversity within the profession to one of cultivating equity, inclusion and justice for engineering students and practitioners, as well as cultivating a culture that promotes just engineering practice.

However, it has been argued that particular ideologies central to engineering culture hinder authentic professional discussion and reflection on the political, social and ethical dimensions of science and technology. Examples of such ideologies include belief in meritocracy, the need for neutrality and objectivity of engineering work with regards to social and political concerns, and the technical/social dualism that allows differential valuation of engineering activities and knowledge in such a way that â??technicalâ? aspects are valued above â??socialâ? aspects. These underpinnings of engineering culture run deep, yet are often invisible to or unexamined by engineering students, educators and practitioners alike.

This study focuses on uncovering student perceptions with respect to these issues. It was conducted at a land-grant university with a large undergraduate engineering population. Incoming and soon-to-be graduating engineering students were invited to participate in focus groups designed to explore perceptions of engineering culture, especially in terms of the ideologies mentioned above. We also probed the influences of studentsâ?? intersecting social identities (race, gender identity, sexual identity, ability status, among others) on their experiences in engineering programs. The results will be used to provide a baseline understanding of how students perceive engineering culture, but more importantly will be used as a means to initiate deliberate conversations about potentially problematic beliefs and norms embedded in engineering culture that contribute to the engineering professionâ??s slow progress towards equity, inclusivity and justice.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation pilot program Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) that is aligned with the NSF Engineering (ENG) Directorateâ??s multi-year initiative, the Professional Formation of Engineers, to create and support an innovative and inclusive engineering profession for the 21st Century.