NSF IUSE: Collaborative Research: Community-Engaged Student Learning for the Development of Empathy in Engineering (NSF #1821866)

Project’s NSF Page


Joachim Walther, Ph.D. - EETI Founding Director, Professor of Engineering Education

David Delaine – Assistant Professor, College of Engineering, Ohio State University

Grant Details

Funder: Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation
Award number: 1821866
Start and End date: July 2018 – June 2023


Research studies have shown that empathy is an important skill in engineering. For example, increased empathy can contribute to communication, design processes, professional success, ethics, and the overall culture of engineering. However, development of empathy has not yet been recognized to be an important component of engineering education. Likely as a result, engineers today generally have less fully developed empathy skills, when compared to professionals in other fields. Community-engaged student learning offers opportunities for engineering students to develop empathy within community-oriented partnerships built around mutual goals. This project will explore community-engaged student learning as a platform inclusion of empathy development in engineering curricula. Thus, it can provide engineering educators with a mechanism to promote empathy as a key engineering skill.

In this project, the investigators will use quasi-experimental, mixed methods research to: 1) study how community-engaged student learning may foster the development of empathy in engineers; and (2) develop research-informed instructional tools to teach empathy and enhance learning outcomes around empathy in engineering. In the first phase of the project, the goal is to collect baseline data across seven community-engaged learning activities, which include service learning, outreach, and volunteer-type activities within the community. Student reflections, focus groups, and interviews will provide qualitative insight, and quantitative measurements will triangulate findings. The goal of the second phase of the project is to develop instructional tools for empathy. In the third phase, these instructional tools will be implemented in community-engaged student learning activities and data collection will be repeated to determine the impact of the tools on empathy development in engineering students.


Delaine, D., Desing, R., Wang, L., Dringenberg, E., & Walther, J. (2021). Identifying and disrupting problematic implicit beliefs about engineering held by students in service-learning. International Journal for Service Learning in Engineering, Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship, 16(2), 14-38.

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