NSF Funds Collaborative Research to Understand “Invisible Diversity” Across Engineering

March 18, 2015

A new study, recently funded by the Division of Engineering Education and Centers at the National Science Foundation, seeks to understand diversity across engineering disciplines in an entirely new way. The project, “Intersectionality of Non-normative Identities in the Cultures of Engineering,” promises to provide educators with practical ways to more effectively recruit, educate, and retain a larger, more diverse body of engineering professionals. Research on diversity in STEM fields has traditionally categorized students according to socially- and culturally-defined categories, which are then used for comparison purposes. Examples of “normative” categorization include “men” and “women,” or “Hispanic” and “non-Hispanic.”

The current project emphasizes the importance of understanding the experiences of students as individuals, incorporating all aspects of their identities, experiences, and career intentions. Adam Kirn, recent ESED Ph.D. graduate and Co-Pi in the project, explains, “This comprehensive approach allows researchers to understand the uniqueness of the experiences of students in a way that would not be seen if they were lumped into a fixed set of categories.”

The project is a collaboration between Geoff Potvin at Florida International University, Allison Godwin at Purdue University, Adam Kirn at University of Nevada-Reno, and Lisa Benson at Clemson University.