NSF EEC-RFE: Inclusions, exclusion, and socialization in engineering programs – Investigating key affective socio-psychological mechanisms in professional formation (NSF #1752897)

Project’s NSF Page


Joachim Walther, Ph.D. - EETI Founding Director, Professor of Engineering Education
Nicola Sochacka, Ph.D. - Former EETI Associate Director for Research Initiation and Enablement

James Huff – Associate Professor in Engineering Education, Harding University
Shari Miller – Associate Professor in the School of Social Work, UGA
Jeremiah Sullins – Professor in Psychology, Harding University

Grant Details

Funder: Division of Engineering Education and Centers, National Science Foundation
Award number: 1752897
Start and End date: September 2017 – August 2021


The field of engineering needs to recruit and retain more diverse student populations to be able to provide the broadly educated, technical workforce necessary to address the global challenges facing society. Identifying and addressing key barriers to students’ access to and success in engineering have presented vexing challenges for engineering educators and engineering programs across the country. There is growing evidence that cultural characteristics of engineering programs, such as high levels of competitiveness and increasing performance pressures, might lead to exclusionary social dynamics that can discourage some students from persisting in the field. This project draws on the psychological concepts of affect in order to explore individual students’ responses to these exclusionary dynamics. More specifically, individual responses to these social dynamics might be informed by a harsh, and often unfounded, self-assessment relative to perceived social or performance expectations. The study will collect and analyze data from students’ experiences in engineering programs to develop a foundational understanding of the influences and dynamics that provide the context for experiences related to perceiving a disconnection from engineering. The findings from this research will be used to inform the design of more inclusive engineering learning environments and to develop strategies for students to build resilience and succeed in their engineering studies.

The goal of this project is to develop a fundamental, theoretical understanding of the role of particular forms of affect in engineering students’ professional formation. Some particular affective states related to professional formation may be defined as a pervasive, strikingly painful experiential state related to an overly critical evaluation of self, prompted by a comparison to socially constructed expectations of conduct or performance in a particular cultural setting. This project examines both individual experiences of, and responses to these affective states and the social dynamics that provide the context and prompt the self-evaluation. The research design combines interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to investigate the individual perspective and ethnographic methods to explore the cultural context. More specifically, IPA comprises interviews with engineering students that are analyzed for internal psychological experiences of negative affect in professional formation. The influences and dynamics of such affective states captured at the individual level are used to elicit student experiences in semi-structured focus groups discussion. These focus groups provide an understanding of the social patterns that inform the cultural construction of norms and expectations in engineering programs. The synthesis of both analyses will result in a comprehensive model of how certain forms of affect accompany professional formation in the context of engineering, as understood from both the embodied individual and the sociocultural realities of engineering students. This understanding of these affective states as socio-psychological phenomena provides insights into exclusionary mechanisms and dynamics that may lie at the heart of issues of underrepresentation and attrition in engineering programs.



Huff, J. L., Okai, B., Shanachilubwa, K., Sochacka, N. W., & Walther, J. (2021). Unpacking professional shame: Patterns of White male engineering students living in and out of threats to their identities. Journal of Engineering Education, 110(2), 414-436.

Secules, S., Sochacka, N. W., Huff, J. L., & Walther, J. (2021). The social construction of professional shame for undergraduate engineering students. Journal of Engineering Education, 110(4), 861-884.

Sharbine, M. C., Huff, J. L., Sochacka, N. W., & Walther, J. (2021, July). Investigating Professional Shame as Experienced by Engineering Students Who are Minoritized in their Programs. In 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access.

Huff, J. L., Walther, J., Sochacka, N. W., Sharbine, M. B., & Kamanda, H. (2020). Coupling Methodological Commitments to Make Sense of Socio-Psychological Experience. Studies in Engineering Education, 1(2), 1. doi:10.21061/see.29

Kamanda, H., Walther, J., Wilson, D., Brewer, M., Sochacka, N., & Huff, J. (2020). The Role of Expectations in the Educational Experience and Professional Socialization of Engineering Students. Journal of Higher Education

Huff, J., Shanachilubwa, K., Sochacka, N., Walther, J., & Okai, B. (2020). Unpacking professional shame: Patterns of White male engineering students living in and out of threats to their identities. Journal of Engineering Education

Sharbine, M., Huff, J., Sochacka, N., & Walther, J. (2020). From Outsider to Advocate: The Experience of Shame as a Minority Student in Engineering Education. In 2020 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE). IEEE. doi:10.1109/fie44824.2020.9273895

Kamanda, H., Wilson, D., Walther, J., Sochacka, N., Secules, S., & Huff, J. (2020). Expectations in Engineering Programs: Between Social Construction and Internalized Experience. In 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access Proceedings. ASEE Conferences. doi:10.18260/1-2--34627

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