campus environments and learning delivery practices. To address this, research has been conducted to identify and develop models and pedagogies to help students overcome educational obstacles and help these populations of students learn better. These methods not only help underrepresented groups but also have been shown to help majority groups learn better, as well. An example of using best practices for students from underrepresented groups is documented in the ENGAGE work supported by the National Science Foundation5. This work focused on implementing the top three issues found in the research: Everyday Examples in Engineering, Spatial Visualization Skills and Faculty-Student Interaction. Everyday Examples in Engineering brings to light the fact that students are socialized differently and they don’t all have a uniform prior experience. Therefore, because the majority of engineering professors in the profession are white males, the examples used in the classroom to provide contextual understanding may not be understood uniformly by all students. So this attempts to develop teaching materials that are built around examples that almost all students would have experienced before. It also attempts to use examples that appeal to various audiences. For example, one of my female students once complained to me that “all the examples yesterday were about war.” Many women select fields that help people so examples about war machines may be the antithesis of many women’s career goals. Therefore selecting an example in the health field may provide broader engagement for students from diverse backgrounds. In general, developing a broad portfolio of well-constructed educational examples and customizing the selection to the students’ learning needs may increase learning and engagement. Spatial visualization skills have been shown to be important for students to succeed in engineering. Some students, especially underrepresented groups, do not always enter college with strong skills in these areas. However, spatial visualization can be assessed and taught, 5 www.engageengineering.org
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so learning modules have been added to the curriculum to develop spatial visualization skills. Purdue University has developed an online assessment for special visualization skills that can provide a means to identify gaps in these skills early in a student’s program so that they can be provided with curriculum and activities to enhance their understanding. Faculty Student Interaction is important for students to feel comfortable and develop positive self-efficacy in engineering. Engineers and engineering professors often tend to be critical, so feedback to students can sometimes be entirely composed of “constructive criticism.” Instead, healthy positive validation must be given regularly to students. However, this cannot be a general “good job” to the entire class. To be effective, feedback must be specific and meaningful. Professors must catch students doing something right and take the time to tell them while connecting this to the student’s good fit for the engineering profession. Other important factors for the success of underrepresented groups are mentorship and community. Students need to see themselves reflected in the campus community and faculty. Students then identify with these educators and feel “if they can do then I can do it.” These educators model professional behavior and attitudes for students. Students from underrepresented groups also need access to mentors who are accessible and with whom students feel comfortable. Mentors can guide students through the obstacles associated with completion. An undergraduate research model specifically developed for individuals from demographic groups underrepresented in STEM was recently established at Marygrove College in collaboration with University of Detroit-Mercy, Wayne State and Wayne County Community College District. This model allows students to build close relationships with the Marygrove faculty in the first two years within its diverse urban campus community. This provides students with a sense of belonging during their foundational years and establishes the mentoring relationship. The faculty and students at Marygrove College
collaborate on projects with faculty at the two research institutions. This provides the students with meaningful undergraduatefocused mentors and in parallel with access to challenging high level research projects and state-of-the-art research laboratories6. Online learning and technology offers flexibility for students as well as the opportunity to interact with other students and faculty around the world. Students can work on projects and speak with engineers at NASA, across the world or under the oceans. The flexibility means that students may participate in international study abroad programs and offers non-traditional students the opportunity to pursue their educational goals while holding down full time positions at jobs or as caregivers. Technology also provides the means to afford access for students with differing learning styles or with disabilities. Today’s engineering educational environments break down barriers while building skills and knowledge in significant, comprehensive ways. There has never been a more exciting time to study engineering. Campuses have state of the art technology and curricula that engage students in fascinating projects and experiences. In addition, the profession promises a productive, meaningful career that combines students’ passions with the ability to make positive impact for the world. While technology progresses at an ever faster rate, as predicted by Moore’s Law, the rates of noteworthy challenges that can only be addressed by innovative resourceful engineers will only grow. 6 “BUILDetroit” Consortium of Marygrove College, University of Detroit- Mercy, Wayne State and Wayne Community College, National Institute of Health, 2014
Dr. Jacqueline El-Sayed is professor of mechanical engineering and vice president for academic affairs at Detroit’s Marygrove College. She is a graduate of General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, and the University of Missouri. She was previously a faculty member and associate provost at Kettering.
The Engineering Society of Detroit's TechCentury magazine, Spring 2015