Current Research Projects
CAREER: INVESTIGATING CO-CURRICULAR PARTICIPATION OF STUDENTS UNDERREPRESENTED IN ENGINEERING
The objective of this research initiative is to investigate how engineering students decide to participate or not participate in out-of-class activities and how these students perceive the impact of various types of out-of-class activities on their persistence, learning and entry into the workforce (or career) and what interventions encourage out-of-class involvement.
This project advances the understanding of engineering students’ pathways to include those traditionally underrepresented in engineering; methodologically contributes to informal learning of engineering students; shapes future research and development related to these populations; and informs research communities, policymakers, and institution leaders. Research on the student experience is essential to transforming engineering education, which will result in broader participation of underrepresented groups in engineering. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation. https://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1544171&HistoricalAwards=false
COLLABORATIVE RESEARCH: AN INSTRUMENT AND ADOPTION FRAMEWORK FOR STUDENT COGNITIVE AND SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT WITH A CIVIL OR CONSTRUCTION ENGINEERING COURSE
This project supports construction and civil engineering faculty in their efforts to develop, evaluate, and improve delivery of their courses. The work, guided by an instrument development framework, develops an instrument to measure students’ social engagement in a classroom. The expected outcomes of this project are: (1) an exploratory framework for how construction and civil engineering faculty make choices and engage in a classroom; (2) a deeper understanding of processes that underlie social engagement in construction and civil engineering classrooms; and, (3) a valid and reliable social engagement instrument with modular subscales to measure student engagement in civil and construction engineering education. The cognitive engagement instrument is being developed by a collaborating institution. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation. https://nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1544171&HistoricalAwards=false
GEO Opportunities for Leadership in Diversity (GOLD): Hearts of GOLD
Much of the shortcomings in recruiting and retaining minorities in geosciences seem to be related to the difficult social environments that these groups face in our disciplines classrooms and workplaces. The overarching goals of the GOLD Institute are to develop senior geoscientists as leaders in diversity through allophilia ideals. Our cohort will begin their training at a two-day GOLD Institute, designed to spark cognitive dissonance, and begin the process of personal reflection and change needed to transform existing leaders into champions for diversity. The research team will investigate how the guiding theoretical frameworks have influenced the change that occurs among participants. A goal is to provide explanations and supporting reasons for the best-practices that emerge from this project. The project team will employ mixed qualitative and quantitative methods to provide interpretations of the experiences, actions, and outcomes of the GOLD Institute utilizing the frameworks of allophilia, sensemaking, and systemic leadership. Specifically, the team will seek to understand how the senior scientists are able to make sense of their contexts to enact activities that are grounded in allophilia. https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1645430&HistoricalAwards=false
MEASURING SHIFTS IN SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY ATTITUDES
This project aims to develop a quantitative survey instrument that characterizes and measures undergraduate engineering students’ attitudes toward social dimensions of
sustainability. The survey was used in several courses for civil engineering students where aspects of sustainability is a part of the course content. Since no known quantitative survey instrument is presently available, an assessment instrument for measuring attitudes
toward sustainability, the Concepts of Sustainability Inventory, is developed and introduced. This assessment instrument is adapted from the Global Reporting Initiative’s sustainability reporting framework. Instrument testing is currently underway. To assist those wishing to use the instrument, its development and administration will be published along with a factor analysis to determine if an abbreviated version of the instrument can generate similar insights. Based on the findings, recommendations can be made for course design and assessment. This project is not funded.
New Grant Awarded – Development of Workforce Sustainability Model for Construction, funded by Center for Construction Research and Training
In order to attain a sustainably safe industry, social sustainability must receive high priority in the construction industry. Social sustainability in construction can be described as “a life-enhancing process to accomplish social equity among all construction stakeholders [including construction workers] in terms of health, education, economic welfare, and other human rights” (Karakhan and Gambatese 2017). The proposed study aims to bridge this gap in knowledge and practice by developing a practical model of workforce sustainability. Workforce sustainability is defined by the investigators as a property of a workforce that reflects the extent to which the workforce can perform its desired function over a selected period of time. A workforce may exhibit a high or low level of sustainability based on the extent to which it safely, skillfully, and collaboratively performs its function.
With support from an Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grant, Dr. Simmons is engaging an interdisciplinary group of four undergraduate researchers and one graduate researcher on a project examining personal resilience of civil and construction engineering undergraduate and graduate students.
In education, resilience is accomplishment in terms of developing skills and producing a positive outcome despite the stress involved. Resilience is thought to develop in early childhood and continue to develop throughout a person’s lifetime. The concept of resilience can be used as a measure to help determine the quality of student experiences in the STEM fields. Studies found that students with higher degree of resilience generally exhibited lower stress which implied better health and hence quality of life. Despite a high level of knowledge and experience on the kind of stress that the students undergo, we are generally unaware of the associated symptoms. This critical literature review examines research that addresses resilience in undergraduate students, how resilience relates to stress experienced by undergraduate students, and how resilience has been measured in the undergraduate population. Initial findings from the review suggest that resilience, as exhibited by undergraduate students, can be qualitatively analyzed through various research methods. Review findings can contribute to the development of positive traits among undergraduate students as practitioners work to assess quality in higher education and improve the undergraduate experience.
PREPARING A 21ST CENTURY STEM WORKFORCE: DEFINING & MEASURING LEADERSHIP IN CONSTRUCTION AND CIVIL ENGINEERING EDUCATION
This project aims to address the gap in understanding of how leadership competence is defined, developed, and measured in construction and civil engineering undergraduates. Specifically, the goals are to: 1) investigate the definition of leadership as defined by the construction industry and compare that to faculty and students’ definition; 2) develop a theoretical model of leadership development as defined by industry; 3) develop a survey instrument to measure leadership capacity and efficacy in engineering; and 4) collect and analyze data with an eye toward evaluating differences between or among major, gender, socio-economic status, generational status, and ethnicity. The impact of this project is the enabling of measurement of leadership competences among engineers on a continuum from first year undergraduate students through graduation and into their careers as practicing construction and civil engineers. The results of this project can be used to inform evidence-based activities, policies and practices in engineering programs to improve the nation’s capacity to prepare students for STEM careers. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation. https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1463802
PROFESSIONAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT IN CIVIL ENGINEERING STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Currently available statistics suggest that between 11 and 15% of U.S. college students identify as individuals with disabilities, yet little work addresses identity development within this population broadly, and even less explores their experiences within engineering. The proposed project addresses the call for studies on the “development of identity as an engineer and its intersection with other identities” by conducting a longitudinal study of students with disabilities in civil engineering. To meet this need, we will use constructivist grounded theory to study two cohorts over three years. The proposed project addresses a significant gap in the research on the professional formation of engineers by extending an emergent theoretical model of identity development in civil engineering to students with disabilities as they advance through their degree program and into the workforce. Our longitudinal approach advances our understanding of undergraduate development by capturing both how and why individuals with disabilities merge and negotiate personal and professional identities through these changes over time. The model developed in this study can then be used by researchers in other engineering fields and, potentially, beyond engineering to facilitate a more robust and nuanced understanding of how students with disabilities develop identities in college. https://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1733636&HistoricalAwards=false
PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
Part of a civil engineer’s duty is to seek opportunities for constructive service in civic affairs and work for the advancement of the safety, health, and well-being of their communities. Public engagement (PE) with engineering projects is the ideal vehicle for engineers to perform this civic duty. Interest in PE for public infrastructure projects has increased due to the emphasis placed on the societal impacts of infrastructure projects and the need to insure all groups, especially underserved ones, have a voice in the process. Many resources describe effective PE practices, but there are a limited number of metric-based frameworks to evaluate their effectiveness. Urban greenways are prime transportation infrastructure for investigating PE effectiveness due to reliance on public feedback and public funding. The duration of these projects and the need for consistent engagement allow for the testing of various PE strategies and offer the ability for benchmarking and corrective measures to be implemented after initial assessment. Comparative multi-case studies will be used to create an evaluation framework to assess the effectiveness of PE efforts for urban greenway projects by applying the analytical framework of Structure Public Involvement (SPI) designed for transportation infrastructure. This project is not funded.
QUALITY IN CIVIL ENGINEERING EDUCATION
With internal funding as a 2017 Institute for Society, Culture and the Environment (ISCE) Faculty Fellow, Dr. Simmons and a colleague from the Department of Statistics are piloting a macro scale project looking at how to measure quality in the civil engineering education experience. This work involves including the voice of all stakeholders to develop a model that would evaluate the educational outcomes of civil engineering students. The project is motivated by the need to comprehensively examine students’ outcomes before and after significant and transformative institutional changes aimed at improving students’ educational outcomes.