Popular stereotypes regarding the type of work engineers do, the values of the engineering profession, and the types of people that become engineers tend to emphasize technical skills and logical problem-solving—often positioning broader global or societal implications as peripheral, secondary concerns. Though numerous studies of engineering practice run counter to such perceptions, these misconceptions persist nonetheless, creating barriers to participation and often causing engineers to overlook critical factors throughout the design process and when evaluating the impacts of their solutions. Thus, we argue that in order to enhance the quality of both the engineering profession and engineers themselves, learning environments should engage students with content that accentuates the connections between engineering and society and addresses the conflict between popular perceptions and actual engineering practice. One successful approach to creating such learning environments is through the use of critical pedagogies. Albeit underutilized in engineering education, critical pedagogies can engage students with knowledge and ways of thinking that enable thoughtful critique of the systems, rules, artifacts, and other worldly aspects that are often taken for granted.
The purpose of this workshop is to explore the ways in which critical pedagogies used during a summer bridge program can influence incoming, first-year college students’ perceptions of what it means to be an engineer. Through open-ended entrance surveys and written responses on a final exam, participants were asked to define what it meant to be an engineer. Thematic analysis was used to explore student responses. Findings demonstrate shifts in both students’ perceptions of the engineering profession and their own engineering identities. While entry survey responses focused predominantly on notions of problem solving using math and/or science, students’ final responses discussed topics such as the importance of collaboration in engineering, the need for diverse thinking, and the broader social impact of engineering decision-making. Students articulated increased interest in, as well as more, comprehensive definitions of engineering. Our results suggest that critical pedagogies, particularly situated in summer bridge programs, may be an effective strategy for expanding perceptions of engineering held by first year engineering students. Furthermore, this research has broader implications for pre-college engineering activities and serves to further the conversation surrounding outreach and recruitment of students in engineering.