The mixed methods project, Building Supports for Diversity through Engineering Teams (NSF EEC 1531586/1531174), investigates students’ attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of diversity in engineering teams to understand how students develop expectations and attitudes towards diversity. Previous work has demonstrated that the development of diverse teams leads to both positive and negative outcomes (e.g., better solutions and conflict) and that student attitudes towards diversity are difficult to change. To better understand these ideas in engineering contexts, our guiding research questions are: 1) What changes occur in students’ diversity sensitivity, multicultural effectiveness, and engineering practices as a result of working in diverse teams? 2) How do students’ perceptions of diversity, affect, and engineering practice change because of working on diverse teams?
The work presented is a synthesis of a large-scale quantitative social networking (n = 675) and pre- and post-semester attitudinal survey (n1 = 608 and n2 = 338) and the analysis of several in-depth semi-structured interviews (n = 11) which focused on the experiences of students working in diverse engineering teams. Specifically, we examined student social networks along with self-reported feelings of belongingness. Results revealed that all demographic groups have similar social network interactions. Additional analysis of students’ sense of belonging highlighted that students start their engineering education with a strong sense of belonging. However, the analysis uncovered that female engineering students have a reduced sense of belonging to start their engineering education.
In parallel to the quantitative work, the research team investigated eleven students’ experiences of working in diverse engineering teams using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), a qualitative method focused on understanding the students’ lived experiences. The narratives from IPA provided the research team an opportunity to develop a semi-deductive analysis method to analyze a set of teaming interviews conducted at a second institution. Emerging results indicated that majority students struggle with their diverse teaming experiences, whereas underrepresented/minority students who have overcome adversity seem to integrate inclusive heuristics into their teaming practices more rapidly.
Results of this work have been used to develop and implement new diversity and inclusion training content which have been utilized as part of undergraduate engineering orientation and faculty development workshops. Additionally, the results of this study have been incorporated into a first-year engineering course reaching over 1,900 students. The effects of these training activities are still being assessed as the project continues. These trainings have demonstrated the importance of shifting how diversity is discussed in the engineering classroom. Our data provide insight into how to open and support conversations around engineering diversity to more effectively equip students to discuss diversity. Future work will expand this study to understand how these results transfer to another institution with different cultural demographics and further explore the results of these trainings.
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