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Research of Emily Dringenberg, Tenure Track Faculty

Have you ever felt that people judge your abilities or value based on your snapshots of your performance such as grades or test scores?  Have you or someone you know ever been discouraged after receiving a low score or feedback on how to improve?  The belief that some people are just smarter than others, and therefore have more potential to do great things than others, is deeply woven into our society and our educational systems.  In order to understand and eventually disrupt this culture, Dr. Emily Dringenberg was awarded funding by the National Science Foundation to study the beliefs that undergraduate engineering students hold about the nature of intelligence (Award #1738209).  She is working with a collaborator in Mechanical Engineering at Kansas State University to study how engineering students in both their first and senior years talk about their experiences with smartness in school.  This project utilizes the theoretical framework of Carol Dweck, an educational psychologist whose research demonstrated empirically that individuals hold distinct beliefs about intelligence.  To put it simply, we tend to believe that either intelligence is static and inherent (e.g., we have an IQ that measures something true and constant about us and our cognitive abilities) or that intelligence is malleable (e.g., we get smarter at the things we focus on and practice).  Most of us aren’t even aware of these deeply held beliefs, but they impact how we view effort, how we react to challenges, and our motivation—all of which are incredibly important for achievement!  Neuroplasticity provides scientific evidence that people get smarter (our brains literally change) with practice and feedback.  However, many aspects of education and society in general convey that smartness is something you either have or you don’t.  Dr. Dringenberg plans to extend her research in this area to explore the ways in which engineering education culture can be more inclusive and productive by exploring the conditions and social norms that foster beliefs that only people with a certain level or type of smartness can be engineers.  This has significant implications for diversity in higher education.

 

If you would like to learn more or share your ideas about this line of research, please stop by and chat with Dr. Dringenberg in her office, Hitchcock 203.