Radical advances in engineering often emerge through nonstandard ways of thinking. Even so, decades of efforts to increase the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering fields have largely overlooked the cognitive diversity of the human race as a resource that must be leveraged to address the increasingly complex challenges facing our world. The one-size-fits-all model of teaching and learning not only limits opportunities for traditional learners to engage in interactive learning and creative problem solving, but it also notably fails students whose ways of thinking fall outside of the typical range. To this end, the focus of this proposal is to move beyond the limitations of traditional engineering education by creating a radically inclusive Civil and Environmental Engineering Department that advances personalized learning, increases recruitment and retention of neurodivergent students, improves learning outcomes for all students, and leverages the potential of neurodivergent individuals to contribute to engineering breakthroughs. This will be accomplished by purposefully engaging students, faculty and staff in the creation of INCLUDE, a strengths-based engineering education community, through a process of identifying student and faculty strengths and creating a multi-dimensional environment that offers students choice in terms of learning methods, assessment tools and interaction modes with their instructors, advisors and peers. Engagement with the INCLUDE program will span all stages of higher education, beginning with pre-college programs and recruitment efforts, continuing through all four years of college, and supporting students as they prepare to enter the workforce.

This radical transformation of a Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, will increase understanding of what it takes to make and sustain cultural change in a risk-averse branch of engineering education. The creation of INCLUDE, a dynamic epistemic community centered around shared theories, code, and tools will support the advancement of knowledge and sharing of best practices for inclusive engineering education, both at and beyond the institutional level. Currently, very little is known about the perceptions and experiences of neurodivergent students in engineering programs. This research will contribute to the understanding of how neurodiversity shapes the experience of engineering students, their persistence in engineering programs, and their sense of identity as professional engineers. The educational activities, centered around the principles of Universal Design for Instruction in the context of a strengths-based model, will increase knowledge of best practices for inclusive teaching; the implementation of which may dramatically transform the educational experience for neurodivergent engineering students. Additionally, by examining engineering faculty attitudes toward neurodiversity, this project will increase understanding of how these attitudes affect outcomes for students with learning differences. Finally, this study will advance knowledge about the strengths of neurodivergent students and the ways in which diverse ways of thinking may contribute to engineering innovations.

This award is jointly funded by the Directorate of Education and Human Resources and the Directoratefor Engineering.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC)
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Jumoke Ladeji-Osias
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University of Connecticut
United States
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