STORY: Oliners Present at International Engineering Education Conference

January 16, 2024

Frontiers in Education offered students a chance for growth as both learners and scholars.

In October, seven Olin students co-presented three papers related to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in engineering education at the international Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference with their faculty advisor, Yevgeniya “Zhenya” V.  Zastavker, professor of physics and education.

FIE Group Photo - student team posing with professor Zhenya

FIE Group Photo; Professor Yevgeniya “Zhenya” V. Zastavker, Dr. Madhvi J. Venkatesh (collaborator on the Contemplative Pedagogies project), and Olin FIE Students.

Held in College Station, Texas, at Texas A&M University, the FIE Conference focuses on educational innovations and research in engineering and computing education leading the world to develop new research insights and educational approaches.

“The FIE conference allows participants to engage in deep and nuanced discussions of both the scholarship and praxis of engineering education,” says Zastavker, who brings students to the FIE Conference every year. “Therefore, I believe this is a beautiful venue for our students to contribute to and participate in because it’s important for them to grow as scholars while also deepening their understanding of their own experiences as both scholars and learners. This year, our student-presenters all did incredibly well, with many of them receiving invitations to apply to graduate programs in engineering education.”

Jen Sundstrom ’24 and Khue Pham ’25 co-presented their paper, “GeoExplorer and Gender Identity: The Impact of Gender in a Game-Based Learning Environment,” which investigates the gendered patterns of student interaction with GeoExplorer, a digital learning tool that simulates a field test that civil engineers conduct to understand soil properties.

“Attending the 2023 FIE Conference was a remarkable experience that left an indelible mark on my academic journey,” says Pham. “The prospect of presenting my work in front of graduate students and esteemed engineering faculty added a layer of anxiety that was both exhilarating and intimidating. Fortunately, our presentation went off without a hitch. This achievement instilled a newfound sense of confidence in my work and my ability to engage with my peers.”

Vaani Bhatnagar ’25, Adhishri Hande ’25, and Prisha Bhatia ’26 co-presented their paper, “Conforming and Non-Conforming Motivations in Students’ Learning Journeys,” which investigates engineering students’ narratives of their conforming and non-conforming motivations, decisions, and the results of making those decisions as pivotal learning moments in their journey of learning. The research expands on the group’s previous analyses of participants’ learning journeys using narrative analysis and grounded theory. 

“While and after presenting, people in the audience seemed genuinely curious to learn more about our work, which allowed myself and my team to feel proud of all the work we did,” says Hande. “Professors from all over expressed that they did not expect us to be undergraduate students […] These remarks were very validating that we had done good work and [made] me even more excited to conduct qualitative research.

FIE Group Photo - 6 students outside College Station City Hall

Group photo of Olin students in front of College Station City Hall, where the international Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference took place.

Grant Goodall ’24 and Keanu Richards ’24 co-presented their research on “Secondary Data Analysis (SDA) as a Research and a Training Tool: First-Year Engineering Experience.” In the paper, Goodall and Richards report on the process of and findings from an SDA of a primary study about the role of First-Year Engineering (FYE) experiences on students’ engineering identities and community.

“This was my second time being able to present at the FIE conference and my first time presenting a paper that I am the author of,” says Goodall. “Overall, I had a great time presenting at the conference, learning about the new research done on education, and working/bonding with everyone in Zhenya’s research group as we explored FIE and College Station.”

In addition to the presentations, the students attended other sessions to broaden their engineering education knowledge.

“I enjoyed a couple of sessions in particular due to their interrelatedness with each other and myself,” says Richards. “’Exploring Undergraduate Engineering Students' Changing Beliefs About Smartness in Engineering’” made me think about the ways in which I used to think about smartness and how much that has changed now. Also, “’Seekers, Bridgers, and Agents of Hidden Curriculum in Engineering’” was about the unacknowledged lessons in learning environments that serve as a detriment to those on the outside of these curricula. I found the whole concept interesting and thought about times in my education when I might have acted as a seeker, bridger, agent, or a combination of the three.”

Zastavker also presented a special session with her colleague Madhvi Venkatesh, assistant professor of biochemistry and educator faculty at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. Their work, “Finding Belonging in Engineering Education: A Contemplative Approach,” provides a theoretical and experiential understanding of contemplative pedagogies and how they can be used to create learning spaces that foster belonging.

“I’m especially proud that all four presentations and the work they are derived from have a focus that is aligned with Olin’s mission of Engineering for Everyone,” says Zastavker. “Bringing those conversations into an international forum and hearing what’s happening in the DEIB space on a global level provides our students with a broad and deep understanding of the importance of ensuring that engineering is an open and accepting space for all.”