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Award Abstract #1329224

A Longitudinal Study of the Dimensions of Disciplinary Culture to Enhance Innovation and Retention among Engineering Students

NSF Org: EEC
Div Of Engineering Education and Centers
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Initial Amendment Date: August 14, 2013
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Latest Amendment Date: August 14, 2013
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Award Number: 1329224
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Award Instrument: Standard Grant
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Program Manager: Elliot Douglas
EEC Div Of Engineering Education and Centers
ENG Directorate For Engineering
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Start Date: September 1, 2013
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End Date: August 31, 2017 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $435,623.00
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Investigator(s): Thomas Martin tlmartin@vt.edu (Principal Investigator)
Marie Paretti (Co-Principal Investigator)
Lisa McNair (Co-Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Sponsored Programs 0170
BLACKSBURG, VA 24061-0001 (540)231-5281
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NSF Program(s): ENGINEERING EDUCATION
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Program Reference Code(s): 110E
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Program Element Code(s): 1340

ABSTRACT

This grant studies differences in disciplinary culture between undergraduates in engineering and in other disciplines to better understand the relationship between disciplinary cultural identity and academic outcomes of engineering students. The goal of the study is to identify aspects of disciplinary culture that are major factors in addressing issues that a critical for engineering education in the future, such as innovation, creativity, and diversity. The grant applies Hofstede?s dimensions of culture (power distance, collectivism/individualism, femininity/masculinity, and uncertainty avoidance) to explain how students develop skills to operate within a discipline and across disciplines. Furthermore, the grant explores the relationship between disciplinary culture and student recruitment and retention in engineering programs, particularly with respect to underrepresented groups. The investigators? prior work with interdisciplinary design teams indicates that the dimension of uncertainty avoidance is especially critical: the ability to tolerate and even embrace uncertainty supports innovative interdisciplinary design practice. In addition, while many engineering students may be less likely to tolerate uncertainty, those engineers who do embrace uncertainty may find themselves alienated from engineering curricula. This pattern, in turn, may impact diversity in engineering student populations.

Consequently, the grant addresses five research questions: 1) How do Hofstede?s dimensions of culture map to academic disciplines? 2) What are the relationships between the dimensions of culture and (a) student choice of major and (b) student success with a major? 3) How do students change over time in their academic programs with respect to the dimensions of culture? 4) What factors affect those changes, e.g., curriculum, instructors? 5) Do the relationships in above show any variation by demographic indicators, e.g., race or gender? To investigate these questions, the grant includes a multi-university study that examines the dimensions of culture across the university, and then follows the development of students within engineering. The intellectual merit of the grant includes developing an actionable theory of disciplinary culture that can support pedagogies of inclusive and collaborative innovation. Despite widespread agreement that engineers for the 21st century must be more creative and innovative, there has been little progress in developing engineering pedagogies that support those goals. The results of the grant can be used by engineering programs to better design curricula that support innovation and creativity. The broader impacts include having a better understanding of the role of disciplinary culture in recruiting and retaining students, particularly with respect to groups that are currently underrepresented in engineering. This grant informs the debate about the role of engineering design in training U.S. engineers to meet the technical challenges of the 21st century.

 

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