Boosting diversity in engineering with evidence-based strategies

Diane Rover, University Professor of electrical and computer engineering, is alliance director for the $5-million Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Iowa-Illinois-Nebraska STEM Partnership for Research and Education and co-principal investigator for Reinventing the Instructional and Departmental Enterprise project, both of which seek to boost diversity in STEM fields.

College of Engineering faculty are developing evidence-based strategies to ensure diversity and inclusion in engineering education – all with an aim of boosting diversity in STEM fields. Here are four of our research projects studying teaching methods and student experience.

 

Thriving in STEM disciplines

Iowa State leads the $5 million Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Iowa-Illinois-Nebraska STEM Partnership for Research and Education (IINSPIRE) project that aims to increase the number and improve the experience of underrepresented students completing STEM degrees in the Midwest.

IINSPIRE offers students evidence-based academic, professional and social support, including mentoring, hands-on research experiences, transfer partnerships between two- and four-year institutions, and other programming.

Researchers, guided by social cognitive career theory, are studying both micro- and macro-level influences to understand how IINSPIRE students thrive and persist in STEM disciplines. Sixteen public and private colleges and universities and community colleges across three states are participating in IINSPIRE, providing a rich collaboration to study shared challenges alliance-wide.

IINSPIRE is led by principal investigator Jonathan Wickert, Iowa State senior vice president and provost and professor of mechanical engineering, and alliance director Diane Rover, University Professor of electrical and computer engineering. IINSPIRE is funded by the National Science Foundation.

 

Collaborative instructional models

An interdisciplinary team of Iowa State researchers are developing new instructional models for course design in electrical and computer engineering, with a goal of better preparing the next generation of engineers for working in ever complex systems and broadening the participation of underrepresented students, especially women.

The Reinventing the Instructional and Departmental Enterprise (RIDE) project is funded by $2 million from the NSF to develop new approaches to teaching and learning in electrical and computer engineering, especially in relation to design and systems thinking, professional skills, such as leadership and inclusion, contextual concepts and creative technologies. Researchers are developing and evaluating human-centered, collaborative and interactive teaching practices in new courses each semester, continually evaluating and improving strategies.

RIDE co-principal investigators are Diane Rover, University Professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Joe Zambreno, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

 

Ecosystems of support

Cyclone Engineers, together with colleagues at two community colleges, are examining the entire process of earning electrical, computer and software engineering degrees to help improve diversity and inclusion in the fields.

The Electrical, Computer and Software Engineers as Leaders (ECSEL) project research team, led by professor of electrical and computer engineering Joe Zambreno, is adapting, implementing and studying an evidence-based student experience model that forms an entire ecosystem of supports, ranging from scholarships for low-income, high-potential students, to professional development activities and study abroad opportunities – all with a goal of doubling the number of women enrolled in the degree programs.

Research questions address how women and other diverse students develop and sustain their engineering identities and what motivates underrepresented students to persist and thrive in electrical, computer and software engineering degree programs. ECSEL is funded by the NSF.

 

Inclusive experiences

Cristina Poleacovschi, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, will lead an interdisciplinary team studying microaggressions in engineering programs in a NSF-funded project.

In an effort to understand and change the low representation of gender and racial minorities in engineering education, the research will study subtle behaviors, known as microaggressions, that students, especially those in a minority gender or race, experience in engineering education.

The research will investigate the effect of these microaggressions on students’ experience, success and persistence in engineering programs. The microaggressions will be studied and compared between Iowa State University, as a predominantly white educational setting, and North Carolina A&T, as a historically black college.

Poleacovschi will collaborate with Gloria Janis-Johnson, University Professor of sociology, contributes expertise on the intersectionality of students’ unique identity based on both race and gender, as well as quantitative methodological expertise in survey research, and Scott Feinsten, assistant professor of political science, who will focus on drawing attention to the social and political implications of microaggressions.