Engineers solve challenging problems to help other people and better society. In order to design effective solutions engineers must employ empathy not only in their design process but also in their collaborative approach to problems. Fostering empathy in engineering students is critical for the continuing tradition of technical excellence and service to society that has characterized the professional formation of engineers in the past. Although difficult to quantify financially, empathy is an economic necessity that goes beyond responsible product design or innovation. Leadership, negotiating contracts, resolving workplace conflicts, and even marketing products successfully require seeing and experiencing the world through the eyes of others. Today’s engineering students will be asked to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. They will need to be equipped with deep technical expertise but also an empathic mindset to design solutions and facilitate authentic engagement with others. Preparing engineers equipped with an empathic mindset will result in the betterment of not only the engineering profession but society as a whole. The recognition and promotion of empathy within engineering will increase the likelihood that broader audiences will perceive engineering as a relevant, inclusive, and impactful profession. Raising awareness of empathy as an important engineering skill will contribute to a more holistic engineering profession that will attract and retain a more diverse group of students. This project seeks to advance the understanding of the development of empathy in engineering education and contribute to the further development of teaching methods proven to foster much needed empathy as part of the professional formation of engineers.

Toward this end, the proposed work will explore the landscape of learning activities used to develop empathy within the Biomedical Engineering (BME) curriculum at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The BME department at Georgia Tech makes use of a wide variety of diverse learning activities within the core curriculum. Using this department as the context of our study and a multi-dimensional model of empathy as our theoretical framework, this project will employ an exploratory, embedded case study approach to explore (1) what learning activities faculty are using to foster empathy in BME courses at Georgia Tech and why, (2) how students are experiencing these learning activities, and (3) what components of empathy as a multidimensional construct are most influenced through these learning activities as compared to those components of empathy developed through story-driven learning. The project will rely on the methods of survey sampling, analysis of student work, and student interviews as multiple sources of evidence. The data from all methods of inquiry will be used to draw conclusions and compare and contrast the learning activities, faculty intentions, student experiences, and empathy development across all of these learning activities within our case study. By looking at the impact of a wide variety of learning activities on the development of empathy over the course of an undergraduate engineering program, this study will advance the understanding of the development of empathy as a multi-dimensional construct in engineering education as a whole. The project will also contribute to the further development of research-based pedagogies proven to foster empathy. Finally, this work will serve as a foundation that will provide a better understanding of the differential impact of pedagogical approaches on the development of empathy as well as inform future work towards understanding the role of story-driven learning as an innovative approach for the development of empathy as part of the professional formation of engineers.

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)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Jumoke Ladeji-Osias
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Georgia Tech Research Corporation
United States
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