Projects

Please click on each link to a complete list of conference papers and publications for our ongoing research projects.

The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and Mobile Energy Technologies (NASCENT) at UT Austin develops nanomanufacturing systems to take nano-science discoveries from the lab to the marketplace. In addition, the NASCENT Center organizes an array of educational activities to create a specialized educational program for its students and implement innovative programs with elementary, middle and high school partners. Our group works closely with NASCENT to implement a robust and comprehensive evaluation plan of all the educational activities with the goals of providing ongoing feedback to allow real time adjustments to the programs, and publishing high-quality papers to add to the literature in this field.

This research project explores the use of project-based service-learning to teach engineering to pre-college youth. In this design experiment, one class of sixth-graders engaged in a full cycle of the Engineering Design Process to identify a need within their community, conceive of, and design a solution for this need. More specifically, the sixth-graders worked in teams of four to design assistive devices for the elderly within their community who suffer from arthritis. This research is specifically interested in exploring the intersection of social purposefulness, project-based service-learning, and engineering (career) interest. It, therefore, seeks to explore the following research questions: 1. How, if at all, does participation in a PBSL engineering design unit contribute to middle school students’ sense of purpose-in-life, their perceptions of, and their interests or aspirations in engineering? 2. How, if at all, did educators (teachers and mentors) perceive the design and enactment of a PBSL engineering design unit and its potential impact in promoting youth purpose and interest in engineering? 3. What are some initial guiding themes for the design and enactment of K-12 PBSL engineering design units?

Our research group explores multiple aspects of University makerspaces. Our research findings have identified why students first use a makerspace and why they do or do not return. We have also explored faculty pedagogical shifts to incorporate projects that use makerspaces into traditional engineering curricula. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, our group is exploring facility and faculty shifts to transition they very hands-on makerspace experience into a hybrid or totally virtual learning environment. Our team is also collaborating with other colleges and programs across the university including the Colleges of Education, Natural Sciences and Fine Arts. All of our research uses an inclusive, asset-based lens to understand the experiences of all engineering students and faculty as they use and incorporate university makerspaces into engineering education. The Makerspace research group at the Center for Engineering Education works closely with Texas Inventionworks throughout all phases of our research.

Please follow the link below for additional information on a CAREER grant to explore theory and pedagogy in university makerspaces.

https://www.engr.utexas.edu/news/archive/9227-texas-engineers-earn-nsf-career-awards

Adopting evidence-based teaching practices, such as active learning, has proven to increase student learning, engagement, and interest in STEM and subsequently, the number and diversity of STEM graduates.  Despite these compelling findings, the translation of educational research to classrooms has been slow, in part due to instructors’ concerns about student resistance.   Here, we define student resistance as any negative behavioral or attitudinal response to a teaching practice that could discourage instructors from using active learning. 

This project focuses on eliminating this barrier for STEM instructors by studying several teaching strategies that have been proven to be effective at reducing resistance; results of this research will be disseminated through professional development workshops for STEM instructors.  Additionally, this project explores the range of student responses to active learning in STEM classrooms, using classroom observations and student surveys.  This research is led by a multi-institutional team and addresses our research questions through collaborations with a  wide range of STEM classrooms, including those at 2-year colleges and Minority Serving Institutions.

As part of a NSF-funded grant, this project explores conceptualizations of engineering identity, how it is formed and eroded, and how it can be measured reliably. The focus of this project specifically seeks to understand engineering identity in undergraduates will particular attention to the representation of women in engineering by investigating gendered affinities towards engineering practice, and attitudes as related to career expectations.

One emerging approach to diversity and inclusion in engineering is to take an assets‐based view of what students from nondominant communities bring to their education and work experiences. There are several assets-based frameworks frequently used in the field of education, including community cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005) and funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992). However, limited research has focused on how assets-based frameworks have been taken up in STEM education specifically and understanding the associated gaps, opportunities, and implications. Our work both critically reviews the state of assets-based frameworks in STEM education and adopts the frameworks in our empirical research. We hope to emphasize the value of students from nondominant communities within STEM and how institutions can better change to serve all students with this work.

Graduate education is becoming an increasingly common pathway for career advancement and additional training in STEM fields. Working collaboratively with researchers at Virginia Tech, our NSF-funded project seeks to understand how mechanisms of graduate funding influence doctoral students’ experiences within graduate school and subsequent outcomes, such as employment. Common mechanisms of graduate funding include research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and fellowships. Our work has focused on a variety of aspects related to funding, including early career outcomes and interests, recruitment of graduate students, and skill development. We use several different data sources on this project, such as interviews of program administrators and graduate students, the Survey of Earned Doctorates and Survey of Doctorate Recipients, and survey(s) designed by our research team.

The climate for LGBTQ+ students in STEM has been widely characterized by a chilly climate that is implicitly and explicitly exclusive of queer identifying students and particularly those at the intersection of other marginalized identities. Despite a decade of literature surrounding the negative experiences of queer STEM students, not much has been done to change this climate on a systematic level (Jennings 2020; ). Our group therefore is taking a collaborative approach to this topic by empowering LGBTQ+ identifying STEM student activists at all levels to engage with their identity. Our current research is focused un understanding the ways in which queer students resist the culture of engineering in order to understand the best targets for departmental change. In addition to the researching students, we are also engaging with them directly through a reading group centered around queer literature and are working to develop a faculty training to change the climate in engineering.

The “Capacity Building for Competitive S- STEM Proposals in Two-Year Colleges” program consists of a series of workshops aiming to improve the competitiveness of proposals submitted by two-year colleges (2YCs) to the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (NSF S-STEM) program. Our group works closely with the workshops’ organizers to implement a comprehensive evaluation plan with the goals of providing internal feedback aiming towards improvements of the workshops’ content and delivery and publishing high-quality papers to add to the literature.