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ASEE Connections

August 2019





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By Angela Erdiaw-Kwasie

The number of engineering doctoral degrees awarded to women increased by 147.4 percent from 2007 to 2018. The period included the Great Recession, which lasted from December, 2007 to June, 2009*, as well as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which increased government research funding. Research grants generally enable faculty members to hire graduate researchers. Women received 1,171 engineering doctorates in 2007 and 2897 in 2018, an increase of 1726.

Table 1 shows the number of total doctoral degrees awarded to women in 2007 and 2018 as well as the percentage of each discipline of the total degrees awarded.

The 5 engineering disciplines with the highest percentages in 2007 were: Electrical/Computer Engineering (12.6 percent), Chemical Engineering (12.5 percent), Biomedical Engineering (12.1 percent), Civil Engineering (10.4 percent) and Metallurgical and Materials Engineering (9.9 percent).

By 2018, the total number of degrees awarded in each discipline increased. However, those disciplines mostly had a lower proportion of the total in 2018. The exception was Biomedical Engineering, which increased from 12.1 percent of the total in 2007 to 14.0 percent in 2018.

It is also important to note that engineering disciplines such as Engineering Management, Engineering (General), and Mining Engineering awarded no doctoral degrees to women in the year 2007 but experienced some growth by 2018.

*National Bureau of Economic Research

Table 1: Doctoral Degrees Awarded to Women by Discipline, 2007–2018

Figure 1: Distribution of Engineering Disciplines of Doctoral Degrees Awarded to Women, 2007–2018





One of the purposes of the state-funded Choose Ohio First Scholarship program is to recruit more students from underrepresented groups, including women and students of color, into college STEMM (the extra M is for medicine) majors. Last fall, the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences set up a retention program to help ensure that most of the Choose Ohio recipients they enroll stay the course and eventually graduate. The program appears to be working well, according to a paper presented at ASEE’s First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) conference at Penn State University in July. The engineering college took in 33 freshmen scholarship students last year, according to the paper . In addition to receiving the financial aid, the students attended professional development workshops to help prepare them to work in STEMM fields. Before they began their freshman year, they spent seven weeks in an on-campus bridge program, living in residence halls and taking courses like pre-calculus/calculus, physics, chemistry, English and engineering models. The students were required to attend monthly workshops and socials, where they would meet with industry representatives who offered them guidance on how to master their courses and co-op experiences. The students also performed 15 hours of community service each semester and wrote an essay about their experiences. They met once each semester with scholarship program coaches who were tracking their progress. The paper, whose lead author was Whitney Gaskins, assistant dean of inclusive excellence and community engagement, reports that the cohort had a grade point average of 3.22, with 26 of the 33 students averaging above a 3.0; of the seven with averages below 3.0, five were above 2.5. Of the 33, 29 continued in the college of engineering into the spring semester—a retention rate of 88 percent. The overall rate for the college is 86 percent. Of the four who left the college, one dropped out for health reasons and another transferred to a different STEM major. The initial compliance check, the paper says, finds the program has “promise,” in helping the scholarship students do well academically and keeping them enrolled.



At ASEE’ First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) conference at Penn State University in July, Jack Bringardner, an assistant professor at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, presented a work-in-progress paper of his efforts to put together a teaching primer for first-year engineering educators. It would introduce them to research related to teaching and mentoring, and how to coordinate those methods into their classes. Bringardner notes that primers are a popular way to disseminate evidence-based best practices. “New engineering educators, administrators, and advisors who have little experience with first-year engineering programs or education research can use the empirical data from the primer to effectively transfer research findings into the classroom . . .,” he writes. The paper focuses on his preliminary research to figure out the most important themes to include in a primer. Toward that goal, Bringardner studied conference topics and papers presented at ASEE First-Year Programs Division and FYEE sessions to determine the topics that appear with the most frequency. His paper divided the themes into four tiers. In the top tier, the two topics most cited were outcomes and classroom strategies. The second tier topics were curriculum development, design and retention. The third tier included K-12 transition, experiential learning and learning technology. Teamwork, diversity and assessment were the fourth-tier topics.





Addressing racism and sexism directly is a necessary first step toward equitable participation in engineering by women and people of color.

By Denise R. Simmons and Susan M. Lord

Supporting diverse students is a critical unsolved issue facing engineering education. As a profession, engineering has not necessarily embraced the value of inclusion. Many challenges for students arise from systemic problems in engineering education that are difficult to identify and even more difficult to address since they require changing the system. Students also continue to experience structural barriers—specifically racism and sexism—which helps explain the persistently low representation of white women and people of color in engineering.

To prepare 21st century engineers, universities must creatively design programs with depth in engineering disciplines while broadening the curriculum to address other professional skills and values such as diversity and inclusion, communication across cultures, management, inventiveness, ethical decision-making, and teamwork. Addressing this challenge requires examining the experiences of our students and considering who has access and successfully navigates engineering pathways.

Among the most important influences on engineering students’?persistence are university policies; the sequencing and scheduling of classes; credit hours; pedagogy; faculty diversity; the classroom climate; and a sense of belonging. Within each of these, we have found examples of racism and sexism that prevent equitable participation by women and people of color. In our experience, engineering educators are reluctant to deal with these issues directly, fearful of even accessing the literature and discussing them to improve their own understanding. Yet by not naming the problem, the engineering community allows these prejudices to persist.

Besides a direct approach, data-driven research is crucial to elucidate pathway impediments in engineering, inform the community, and move forward. We need to rethink our mindsets, our metrics, and the data we collect. We need to expand the categories of data collected, including generation-in-college status, veteran status, disability, neurodiversity, and LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and ally or asexual). We support increasing the use of intersectional and asset-based approaches. As we expand, we should remain mindful that we still have work to do in removing structural barriers encountered by African Americans and Latinx.

One hopeful sign is that “creating a collaborative and inclusive environment” is one of the 2019–2020 ABET student outcomes. Faculty play an important role in shaping the culture of engineering education including whether students feel they belong and can be successful. We encourage all engineering instructors to use more effective pedagogies to enhance student learning and sense of belonging, including becoming informed about and mitigating stereotype threat. Promoting equity is not just the work of women or people of color. White men can explore and reflect on their own privilege within engineering education and become allies.

Since engineering is entwined with innovation, diverse perspectives are critical for success in teaching, research, and engineering practice. We encourage all involved in faculty hiring to adopt best practices and examine their own mindsets and implicit biases avoiding the false dichotomy of excellence versus equity. Moving beyond guilt to strategies that result in empowering allies is critical to removing structural barriers to hiring faculty of color. More engineering educators should also serve as allies in the retention of underrepresented groups in faculty positions.

Writing as an African-American woman and a white woman who have been in industry and academia for several decades, we urge everyone in engineering education to explore the role of power and privilege in their own experience and how they can dismantle these structures. How can you be an ally for all students in teaching, research, and policy? As an instructor, are you implementing inclusive teaching strategies? As a researcher, are you adopting a mindset that allows for inclusivity? As a policy maker, are you considering the experiences of a diverse group of students in developing policies? Thoughtful consideration of these questions can help make an inclusive environment a reality for future students in engineering education.


Denise R. Simmons is an associate professor of civil and coastal engineering at the University of Florida. Susan M. Lord is professor and chair of integrated engineering at the University of San Diego. This article is adapted from “Removing Invisible Barriers and Changing Mindsets to Improve and Diversify Pathways in Engineering,” in the Spring 2019 issue of Advances in Engineering Education.






New interactive approaches dispense with the written lecture and let students ‘do’ as they read.

By Chris Rogers

I have been very excited to see how the textbook—still a powerful learning device—is changing. In digital versions, it is slowly morphing from pure text to interactive multimedia pages that you can edit. Even more interesting is the transformation of the table of contents. If you look at old textbooks—say, fluid mechanics—they start out with a broad overview of the subject. Next comes a chapter of definitions, then a bunch of simple problems with sample recipes for you to follow. It is often not until the end of the book that you actually get to have an opinion, think for yourself, or really adopt a fluid mechanics mind-set. Through most of the chapters, you are following someone else’s footprints. In this way, the classical textbooks are not unlike our education system: 16 years of memorizing the knowledge of others with limited opportunity to invent, discover, and develop your own ideas. Graduate school is the place where your opinion matters, and learning becomes exciting.

As schools bring in constructivist and constructionist learning ideas, suddenly the 8-year-old’s opinion does matter and students start to learn ways of thinking (mind sets) as they acquire knowledge. So what happens to the textbook? Is it still something that takes 12 chapters of hand-holding to get to the interesting stuff? Why not start with the interesting stuff and use that to motivate the hand-holding as needed? How does one get students to “do” while reading instead of just passively taking in information? A slew of interesting new approaches are emerging, starting with flipping the book—placing the overview after the reader has worked on some exercises. Providing recipe examples as hyperlinks challenges students to think first about potential ways of solving a problem before seeing how the instructor/author did it.

A textbook can begin with something fun and tangible. That could be programming a blob/sprite to move around in a virtual space/stage (Apple’s Swift learning book, or MIT’s Scratch coding), making a robot drive to the edge of a table (Lego, Vex Robotics, etc.), getting an LED on pin 13 to blink (Arduino), or writing your first html web page (on W3Schools). In each case, you start with a goal and a gallery of examples. You can start with a “blank page” and start typing or dragging, or you can start from someone else’s story and modify it (remix in Scratch language). Most software now starts with very short “getting started” multimedia efforts—from animated GIFs to sample templates. The same is happening with online books. Mathematica and Matlab have done this very well for quite some time, and there are some new ones, like trinket.io, that extend the idea more.

Imagine that someday you will “open up” a fluids textbook and see a cool video of blood flow on Page 1. You can click in and discover velocity profiles and pressure distributions before really knowing what those parameters are (just as you blink the LED before you really know how LEDs work or how to connect them up). You will be able to modify the shape (or wall friction) of the aorta, change the pumping rate of the heart, or maybe simulate an aneurism. This will spark your curiosity, and you will start to look at the effect of diameter on the flow-rate and realize there is a correlation. You might even develop your own mathematical model before delving into the section on conservation of mass. If you have questions, you might post them on the forum (StackExchange, etc.), or find that someone else has already asked that question and received a clear answer.

Textbooks, I think, will move from a telling model to a conversation model. We can use the analogy of a faculty cocktail party, in which people believing themselves to be experts try to persuade others to their point of view. While someone might walk up to you and launch into a lecture, such an approach is seldom convincing, and most people avoid those conversations. Instead, people use a variety of social tools, including entertaining anecdotes, listening, questioning, and responding. Likewise, our standard textbooks rarely convince simply by telling. With the power of the computer, the textbook can use all the techniques of listening, responding, and probing, while making students feel like part of a group or community and giving them the opportunity to “do” rather than “talk.”


Chris Rogers is a professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University.





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How can you build your college’s female leadership pool? On Sept. 11, at 11:00 AM, ET, University of Michigan’s Alec Gallimore (Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering) and Jennifer Linderman (Director of the ADVANCE Program) will explore four key approaches used at Michigan engineering to build the female leadership pool, where women now occupy half of the top faculty-leadership roles. Don’t miss out—register today at http://bit.ly/30y42Ub






COVER: DRIVERS OF DISCOVERY—Supercomputing experts fill a key role in the ranks of researchers.


FEATURE: STEPHANIE ADAMS—A profile of the 2019-2020 ASEE president.


FEATURE: POWER PLAY—New technology to strengthen the electric grid and prevent blackouts.





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