CREATE Research Team Publishes Paper

A team of student and faculty researchers published their paper, “Using Utility Value Interventions to Explore Student Connections to Engineering Mechanics Topics,” on ASEE PEER.

The mechanical engineering Critical Research in Engineering and Technology Education (CREATE) research group includes Professors Ben D. Lutz and Brian Self and students Isabella Sorensen and Dominick Trageser.

Isabella Sorensen, mechanical engineering senior
Dominick Trageser, mechanical engineering senior
Professors Ben D. Lutz
Professor Brian Self

Lutz leads CREATE, which explores the ways in which design practices might be reimagined to develop theories of equity-minded design. Some current projects include research on equitable engineering design practices and pedagogies, conceptual change and metacognitive development in mechanics courses and the role of value systems and culture in professional engineering practice.


Engineering mechanics courses (e.g., statics and dynamics) are critical foundations within an engineering curriculum and a strong understanding of these topics is often important for success in the broad range of classes that leverage and build on these topics. But students often struggle in these courses for a number of reasons and this point in the curriculum can be a “bottleneck” in terms of student success and progress toward a degree. Utility Value Interventions (UVI) offer an opportunity to increase motivation and success by helping students make concrete connections between what they learn in class and how that learning is personally useful or relevant to them. And while UVIs have shown promise in STEM more broadly, less attention has been given to them in engineering in particular. Helping students see the value of engineering content can help students persist in the face of academic challenges; this is especially true for minoritized groups in STEM. The purpose of this research is to explore the ways students in introductory engineering mechanics courses make connections between their values and their learning and success in those courses. Based on previously validated work in STEM, we developed and distributed UVIs in engineering statics and dynamics courses during the 2020-2021 academic year. The UVI asked students to think about subjects discussed in class and to articulate how those subjects are personally relevant or meaningful to their lives. We conducted a qualitative thematic analysis to explore dominant themes in student responses and organized them in terms of the different ways students perceived the value and relevance of engineering mechanics concepts in their lives. Analysis is ongoing, but preliminary findings suggest that UVIs can help students recognize and form rich, meaningful connections between engineering mechanics topics and their personal lives and values. Specifically, students describe connections in terms of 1) personal relevance; 2) a sense of “seeing” mechanics in everyday life; and 3) sociotechnical dimensions of engineering. These themes suggest that when given the space and time, students can form valuable personal connections to the concepts they encounter in introductory engineering mechanics courses in ways that enrich and give meaning to their learning. Such findings are noteworthy because engineering science courses often present content in ways that are removed from authentic contexts that might help students make these vital connections. We recommend that engineering faculty both leverage UVIs in other engineering science courses while also incorporating the findings from the present work to help highlight the diverse ways students might already see connections between abstract concepts and their own lived experiences and values.

Using Utility Value Interventions to Explore Student Connections to Engineering Mechanics Topics


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