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Associate Led Projects

Associate Kacey Beddoes has two STEM-related grants: the first, Charactering Faculty Discourses on Gender in Engineering Education for Effective Interventions addresses how faculty perceptions of gender may contribute to persistent gender biases in engineering education.
Faculty interactions with students have been shown to play a significant role in students' decisions to leave STEM majors — with female students in particular reporting negative classroom experiences. This study addresses this problem by examining what and how faculty members think about gender, and how that shapes their educational practices and developing relevant intervention materials. 

Forty-five engineering faculty members spanning multiple disciplines and career levels at three different institutions are participating in in-depth qualitative interviews that examine their perspectives, practices, and decision-making in relation to gendered facets of engineering education. The interviews are being used to create faculty development materials and educational materials for future faculty members. Materials are being implemented at faculty development centers and workshops at national engineering education conferences. The faculty development materials created enhance intellectual infrastructure locally and nationally by providing the first research-based interventions of this kind. The curricular materials created enhance intellectual infrastructure locally and nationally by educating future engineering faculty on how to create more gender-equitable classrooms.

The second grant, Collaborative Research: Improving Interdisciplinary Design Teamwork and Communication Using Boundary Negotiating Artifacts, concerns teamwork. The importance of interdisciplinary teamwork skills for engineering graduates is widely recognized, and increased interdisciplinary collaboration is needed to solve the grand challenges facing society today. Although research from other fields has demonstrated the value of examining the artifacts generated during research and design, there are as yet no ethnographic studies of the day-to-day practices of interdisciplinary teams in engineering education settings and the objects they create and use in those practices. This study  fundamentally advances knowledge of interdisciplinary teamwork by developing a typology of boundary negotiating artifacts (BNAs) in interdisciplinary engineering teams. 

BNAs are the artifacts and practices surrounding engineering teams that coordinate perspectives, create alignment between team members from different disciplines, facilitate transmission of information, and allow team members to learn from other disciplines during research and design. The project addresses a significant gap in knowledge about the actual practices and artifacts generated during the course of interdisciplinary design projects. By focusing on the daily, micro-level practices of engineers, a fuller, more accurate description of communication processes emerges than those based on interviews and normative descriptions of engineering work. Characterizing the artifacts that facilitate or hinder collaboration ultimately contributes to engineers' abilities to work with stakeholders from other backgrounds as successful boundary-spanners. This study's contribution is significant because it provides the first research-based educational materials that are designed to improve interdisciplinary design teamwork and communication through the use of an artifacts typology. 

Associate Sarah Kuhn’s grant, Lowell Tex:  Embracing Lowell’s Cultural, Historical and Educational Assets to Create Pathways to STEM, will uses the fiber arts to teach STEM concepts.  This highly innovative project, which was selected to receive a 2015 Creative Economy grant, will benefit the greater Lowell community, as well as the study of STEM.  This grant will create opportunities for fiber artists to teach STEM concepts and open up an additional source of income for those artists in a better-funded domain; it will enhance the visibility and perceived value of the fiber arts; and it will examine a potential new approach to reducing math anxiety, prevalent among artists as well as the general public.  Lowell Tex will also raise public awareness about the potential importance of the arts in STEM, often called “STEM to STEAM” (for Arts integration in STEM).