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ASEE Connections

November 2019




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By Angela Erdiaw-Kwasie

From 2011 to 2016, most of the growth in engineering graduate enrollment resulted from an increase in foreign graduate students. The international students’ share rose from 39.9 percent to a peak for the period of 56.6 percent (73,895 students) of the total. During the same period, enrollment of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in graduate education experienced a gradual decrease. Among international engineering graduate students, the two most popular fields in 2016 were computer science (inside engineering) and electrical engineering, drawing 27.5 percent and 20.4 percent, respectively. Together, these two disciplines accounted for 47.9 percent of international graduate enrollment in engineering. The period from 2016 to 2018 saw a drop of 4.8 percent—11,000—in the proportion of graduate engineering students from overseas. This decline may reflect a smaller influx of international students overall into the United States, as well as a smaller number of international students staying in the United States to pursue another degree. Meanwhile, the period from 2016 to 2018 saw a gradual increase in graduate enrollment among U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Table 1 shows the total enrollments for both domestic and foreign graduate students from 2005–2018. Figure 1 shows the graphical nature of these figures over time.

Figure 1.



II. NYU Tandon Outlines Vital Research Areas for Engineering Urban Communities of the Future

There’s a reason the NYU Tandon School of Engineering has made the leap from 80 to 40 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of Best Engineering Schools since 2009, and why six researchers have garnered 2019 NSF CAREER Awards.

Today, 1 in 2 people live in an urban community; in 2050, 7 of 10 will. NYU Tandon focuses on vital research areas and the intersections between them—including all things Urban, Cybersecurity, Emerging Media, Health, Sustainability, Communications & IT, and Artificial Intelligence, Robotics & Data Science.

Whether they’re improving the transparency of online political advertising, hosting elite scholars developing innovative approaches to tackling new cybersecurity threats, or earning the support of the NSF’s National Robotics Initiative 2.0 to further development of light-weight, autonomous, cloud-connected robots using 5G wireless communications, Tandon researchers are on it.

Faculty, students, and collaborators make the most of innovating in Brooklyn—one of the greatest living labs in the world—to address the urgent and intractable issues facing an increasingly connected and densely populated world.

Learn what it means to be #NYUTandonMade
See how NYU Tandon is engineering creative & smart, connected & secure, and sustainable & healthy urban and global communities.






Making the leap from high school to college can be tough for students, especially engineering majors. For instance, while high schoolers typically spend around 30 hours a week in classes and another five hours studying, in college nearly the reverse is true: The average student spends 15 hours a week in classrooms, while putting in 30 hours a week on homework. And the amount of studying time engineering students need can be much higher. Academics at the Michigan Technological University decided a good way to help prepare freshmen engineering students for the rigors they’re about to undergo was to solicit the advice of students who had just experienced their first year.

In a paper presented at ASEE’s First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) conference at Penn State University in July, the Michigan Tech authors explain that as part of the second half of a two-class series ENG1102—a flipped-class course that teaches introductory 3-D solid modeling and requires students to apply MATLAB programming to a semester-long project—student teams were assigned to come up with six pieces of advice for incoming freshmen. The course’s 152 students were divided into 42 teams. The following fall, their prescriptions for success were presented to the next batch of first-year students.

The main bit of advice offered by 95 percent of the teams was: Manage your time, keep up with homework, and stay on top of due dates. As one team wrote: “The key to literally everything in college is time management. And yes, a lot of your peers are procrastinators, too. That’s why college is hard. So master time management and you’ll be ahead of the game.” The next most popular suggestions were: use resources (faculty office hours, learning centers) and ask for help; work harder than you did in high school; be prepared when you come to class; communicate with team members on strategies; don’t skip classes; make time for social activities, friends and campus organizations; take care of yourself (get enough sleep, learn to de-stress and eat healthily). The authors were pleased with the outcome of the project and it’s now become part of the course. Link: https://peer.asee.org/advice-from-a-first-year



In an abstract presented at ASEE’s First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) conference at Penn State University last July, academics from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania outlined a first-year, multi-week project requiring students to assess the energy efficiency of residence hall windows. They developed the project to give students an introduction to a range of engineering disciplines (electrical, computer, mechanical, civil and environmental). Moreover, their paper says, the project helps meet ABET outcomes by stressing design, teamwork, communications and experimentation.

Each team of four to five students is told to consider itself a small consulting firm that’s been asked by the college’s energy auditor to evaluate the condition of the windows. Students build sensors using thermocouples and other devices to measure and record temperatures over time. They have to research performance indicators of energy efficiency so they can evaluate the windows using qualitative data. Next, they design experiments and test their sensors, collecting a week’s worth of temperature data in the dorms. Then they use a variety of statistical methods and computational tools, including Excel and MATLAB, to analyze their collected data. At the end, the students have to communicate their findings and make recommendations on window replacement or repair, while figuring out the cost of their suggestions. In a final classroom report, the teams must give a concise presentation of their methodologies and results to the campus facilities staff.

The academics say the project helps make students comfortable with the skills and concepts they’ll be using in later engineering courses. It also helps to expand their interest in developing and using technologies to work on problems that affect communities. Feedback from students is largely positive. In evaluations, students say it helped them to hone teamworking skills, taught them how to use research, engineering methods and technology to solve real problems, and how to learn from failures.





Engineering schools can increase gender equity at the top and improve their culture. Here’s how.

Opinion By Alec D. Gallimore

Often when I tell people that women occupy 13 of the 25 top leadership roles at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, I can almost see in their eyes an unspoken assumption: We must have passed over better-qualified male candidates. We rarely make the reverse assumption—even when men fill most or all of the senior ranks.

In our case, we expected more—not less—of our department chairs, associate deans, and executive-committee members. Being an accomplished engineer is still a requirement, but it is no longer sufficient. Our leaders also need to see where biases exist in the organization and propose ways to counter them. It turned out that the women who were hired as leaders in our latest round excelled on those measures.

We’ve been working toward this balance for roughly a decade—long before my tenure as dean. And we know that there is much more work to be done. Here are guidelines that helped us reach this point:

Measure where the playing field isn’t level. With the help of an ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation, Michigan examined why women left science and engineering, or never entered in the first place. The effort began in 2001 with a climate survey that polled all faculty members. Female scientists and engineers at Michigan rated the university more negatively than did their male colleagues on nearly every climate measure, but particularly on whether their department had a “gender-egalitarian atmosphere.” While our overall climate ratings have since improved, ADVANCE’s 2017 survey showed that women still rated it less favorably than did men.

Results of a second campuswide survey in 2017 held troubling implications for engineering in particular. When faculty members rated whether they felt valued for their research, scholarship, and creativity, there was a 25-point gap between the perceptions of men and women. In addition, 37 percent of women in the college reported experiencing gender discrimination. In a detail that the male leadership nearly overlooked, almost half the female engineers reported fearing for their physical safety on campus. We needed to identify the causes of these gender discrepancies and develop solutions.

Hiring committees need both to spot and challenge unconscious biases. Our ADVANCE program zeroed in on unconscious bias in hiring—the shortcuts our brains take in deciding who is competent and trustworthy. Now, members of hiring committees are required to participate in small-group workshops, where they become alert to examples of bias, such as letters that emphasize a female candidate’s social skills more than her technical accomplishments. We encourage committee members to question one another on their perceptions of applicants. We have some evidence that these workshops are slowly changing the culture overall as our new female leaders win the support of their peers.

Ensure equal access to mentoring. Our first climate survey confirmed that men in engineering tended to have more mentors than did women. To counteract that imbalance, we formed “launch” committees of established professors who not only support first-year hires but also forge mentoring relationships that help junior faculty chart an upward path. Women have told me that a leader’s small gesture of encouraging qualified faculty to put themselves forward for open positions sends a message that they will be taken seriously. For challenges when women benefit most from advice of other women, an all-female dean’s advisory council discusses specific struggles and solutions. A similar council focuses on faculty of color.

Redefine “merit” and take inequality seriously. The women we promoted are outstanding based on conventional academic measures, such as where they earned their degrees, which journals published their work, and who invited them to speak. But those measures can be biased themselves, and as history shows, conventional measures won’t hasten change.

So in addition, we required that department chair applicants submit a diversity plan. Some critics deride these as political litmus tests. In our view, they test whether applicants can change a talent-suppressing culture into one that is inclusive.

Institutions that see diversity purely as a charitable cause miss that it’s about staying competitive. Women will uncover biases in how we teach, and may spot other flaws that men might fail to notice in engineering designs, code, systems, and policies. With outstanding female engineers leading the college, we can accelerate a cultural shift and make engineering genuinely welcoming to women.


Alec D. Gallimore is dean of engineering at the University of Michigan. His on-demand webinar is available at http://bit.ly/30y42Ub (free to ASEE members; $50 for nonmembers). This essay is adapted, with permission, from “An Engineering School With Half of Its Leadership Female? How Did That Happen?” in the May 1, 2019, Chronicle of Higher Education.






Helping students connect their technical knowledge to social-justice concerns may increase equity and diversity.

By Dara E. Naphan-Kingery, Monica Ridgeway, Amanda Brockman, Rachel McKane, Portia Botchway and Ebony McGee

Engineering and computing embody a spirit of service conducive to equity and justice. However, many would-be engineers and computer scientists do not see this connection. Increasing engineering students’ investment and interest in using their engineering knowledge to reduce social inequities is critical, because these professionals can harness and influence resources to achieve important social outcomes. We explored how engineering and computing doctoral students, who are poised to embark on their careers, expressed an equity ethic—an attribute defined in this research as a principled concern for social justice and the well-being of people suffering from various inequities. We leveraged previous research showing how marginalized students often have this attribute, partly due to their experiences of social suffering, or the collective suffering due to societal inequities. This prompted us to explore the development of an equity ethic in a diverse sample of students in terms of race, gender, and citizenship status. Specifically, we asked if students who are not marginalized could develop an equity ethic. Furthermore, is this attribute related to their career interests?

In 2017, our team interviewed 18 racially diverse students from research-intense institutions across the United States about their doctoral experiences and career interests, and used thematic analysis to uncover themes in the interviews. We found that the degree to which participants knew and understood social suffering, and the degree to which they expressed an equity ethic, were clearly related. Participants with low potential (n = 4) for developing an equity ethic lacked any connection to social suffering and expressed color-blind and meritocratic ideas about social disparities. Those with high potential (n = 5) were aware of social suffering and wanted to help others generally, but this awareness did not translate into an equity ethic. Among those with an equity ethic, some experienced marginalization in academia and wanted to be role models for future underrepresented students, although the toxic environment simultaneously pushed them away (n = 5). Others with an equity ethic (n = 4) never experienced marginalization but had learned about inequity through impactful experiences like service trips abroad or personal relationships with someone suffering from social inequity. We contend that this close connection to suffering helped participants develop social empathy, the ability to understand the socio-historic contexts of inequities and to feel responsible for taking steps to reduce them.

We found a less clear relationship between equity-ethic expressions and career interests. It appears that how people develop an equity ethic can affect their pursuit of a particular career. If students personally experienced social suffering in the academy, they seemed attracted to academia to broaden participation. The same dynamic influenced career choices outside of academia. Furthermore, their expressed equity ethic mapped better onto the motivations for pursuing a particular career, not the career itself. For example, one of the low-potential participants was interested in academia but mentioned neither altruistic nor social-justice reasons for his interest.

These findings have several implications. We must design initiatives to broaden participation in engineering and computing, acknowledging that marginalized students may self-select out of these fields if they cannot make the connection between their technical knowledge and social concerns. Institutions should learn the motivations and interests of their marginalized students and offer curricula and professional development tailored to their equity ethic. Students who do not experience social suffering should also be encouraged to develop an equity ethic and assist in efforts to reduce inequities. However, we caution against service-learning models that reify the hierarchy of who gives and receives help; rather, we suggest that doctoral students practice using their technical skills to help address local problems and inequities. An equity ethic may not dismantle the structural forces that shape such inequities as racism and sexism, but future research should explore strategies to strengthen this important attribute in students. It has the potential to reshape these fields to be more equitable and just.


Dara Naphan-Kingery is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of teaching and learning at Vanderbilt University, where Monica Ridgeway is an academic pathways postdoctoral fellow. Amanda J. Brockman is a doctoral student in the department of sociology, Rachel G. McKane is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology, Portia K. Botchway is a doctoral candidate in the department of teaching and learning, and Ebony O. McGee is an associate professor of diversity and STEM education, all at Vanderbilt University. This article was adapted from “Investigation of an ‘Equity Ethic’ in Engineering and Computing Doctoral Students” in the July 2019 Journal of Engineering Education.





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COVER: AIRCRAFT—What can engineering students learn from the two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 MAX jets?


FEATURE: IRON RING—The history and importance of Canada’s ritual for new engineers.


FEATURE: GRADING—AI-assisted grading tools speed feedback, save time.






See a video of the 2019 NSF Engineering Research Centers' Perfect Pitch Competition and try to guess the winner.



Dec. 2019 Webinar - Insights from NSF GOLD on Increasing Underrepresented Minority Recruitment and Retention: Tune in for a free webinar on Dec. 10 at 1:00 PM, ET, during which GeoDES and Sparks for Change teams supported by NSF GOLD (GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity) will share insights and lessons learned from their innovative professional development projects developed to increase the engagement, recruitment, and retention of URM faculty in the sciences. Register now: http://bit.ly/31nQjPL



ASEE is seeking applications and nominations for the position of Editor-in-Chief for the journal Advances in Engineering Education. The anticipated start date for this volunteer position is July 1, 2020, with applications due this fall. Learn more here.





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