North Carolina State University Project to Address Perceived Bias in Engineering Education

A team of researchers at North Carolina State University is conducting a study to address the issue of perceived bias in engineering programs. Perceived bias refers to instances in which people feel they are being stigmatized in some way due to their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

The new study aims to develop a set of best practices which can be implemented by universities to reduce perceived bias in graduate engineering programs, and possibly for other STEM graduate programs. The researchers will first conduct a series of interviews of graduate students in engineering in an attempt to identify ways in which students in engineering experience perceived bias.

The researchers will use this information to develop a survey that will be sent to a large group of graduate engineering students nationwide. The goal is to collect sufficient data from women and underrepresented groups about their experiences with perceived bias.

Cheryl Cass, director of undergraduate programs in the department of materials science and engineering at North Carolina State University and co-leader of the project, explains that “we want to capture here is how perceived bias affects the development of engineering identity in graduate students. Self-identifying as an engineer can help engineering students persevere and succeed. We want to know if and how perceived bias influences this.”

In 2020, the researchers will begin phase three of the project, which involves conducting another round of qualitative interviews with the students who were interviewed in phase one. The phase three interviews will address whether the national survey results resonate with the students, as well as what their experiences have been during the intervening two years.

The researchers say that they will be looking for structural and organizational problems that may contribute to systemic bias so that they can identify examples of large and small changes that can be made to help students of all kinds feel like they are on equal footing.

The research is being funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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