NSF EEC-RIEF: A Mixed Methods Approach to Examine and Foster Academic Resilience in Undergraduate Engineering Students (NSF #1927341)

Project’s NSF Page


Peter H. Carnell, Ph.D., P.E. - Lecturer
Nathaniel Hunsu, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor of Engineering Education
Nicola Sochacka, Ph.D. - Former EETI Associate Director for Research Initiation and Enablement

Grant Details

Funder: Division of Engineering Education and Centers, National Science Foundation
Award number: 1927341
Start and End date:  September 2019 – August 2023


Helping engineering students improve their resilience skills could better enable them to succeed in college and deal more effectively with future challenges. Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity. It is a valuable skill because it helps employees successfully navigate difficulties and overcome setbacks. But in technically challenging disciplines such as engineering, little effort has been devoted to formally cultivating such skills. This study will examine the role that resilience can play in improving students’ performance in challenging engineering courses. Students participating in the study will complete resilience surveys and receive a resilience profile based on their responses. In detailing students’ specific resilience skills (e.g., the extent of their perseverance, optimism, and self-control), this profile may help students play to their strengths and develop strategies for working around their weaknesses. Subsequent class discussions will consider the connections between resilience and academic success. It is believed that students will benefit from better understanding resilience, from becoming more aware of its role in their performance, and from strengthening their resilience skills. To our knowledge, this will be the first study of resilience in engineering education. The findings could dramatically improve student and faculty understanding of the importance of resilience in mastering technical material in engineering and other disciplines involving science, technology, and mathematics.

This study will mix quantitative and qualitative methods to explore resilience-achievement relationships among students in core engineering courses. The research design is theoretically informed by a model of resilience which includes risk factors, protective factors, and positive adaptation. The quantitative data collection will be based on the use of two resilience surveys that have been previously validated in educational contexts, namely the Academic Resilience Scale and the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale. This study is underpinned by a commitment to integrate research and practice, and to conduct research that directly benefits students. The study will directly impact 342 undergraduate engineering students who participate in the study by providing these students with access to their individual resilience scores; facilitating in-class discussions of aggregate correlations between dimensions of resilience and academic performance; and providing opportunities for reflection on adaptive and maladaptive coping mechanisms. The research design includes a focus on students identified as the most and least resilient, as well as resilience-achievement relationships for groups that are underrepresented in engineering and/or at-risk of failing or withdrawing from their engineering studies. Research findings will be shared through conference and journal publications, and via local and national workshops that focus on the role that professional skills can play in learning STEM technical content.


Sochacka, N. W., Walther, J., Morelock, J. R., Hunsu, N. J., & Carnell, P. H. (2020). Cultivating a culture of scholarly teaching and learning in a college of engineering: An ecological design approach. Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, 25(2), 165-176. doi:10.1080/22054952.2020.1864087

Hunsu, N., Oje, A., Carnell, P., & Sochacka, N. (2020). Examining factorial validity evidence for the academic resilience scale in an engineering learning context. International Journal of Engineering Education

Carnell, P. H., Schwab, M. C., Sochacka, N. W., & Hunsu, N. J. (2020). Performance and perception: A preliminary examination of factors that may motivate students to bounce back.. In FIE (pp. 1-4). IEEE. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE44824.2020

Hunsu, N. J., Carnell, P. H., & Sochacka, N. W. (2021). Resilience theory and research in engineering education: what good can it do?. European Journal of Engineering Education, 46(6), 1026-1042.

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