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UGA researchers explore role of academic resilience in engineering courses

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study may be the first of its kind in engineering education

Resilience is a vital goal of engineering. When designing buildings and infrastructure, engineers want to create structures and systems that can adapt, absorb and respond to disruptive events.

But what about the engineers themselves?

In what may be the first study on resilience in engineering education, researchers in the University of Georgia College of Engineering are examining the role that academic resilience plays in enhancing student performance in challenging core engineering courses. Their goal is to better equip undergraduates to succeed in college and to deal more effectively with professional challenges after graduation.

“We’re particularly interested in how students respond if their initial efforts aren’t as good as they want them to be,” said Peter Carnell (pictured above), a professor of practice and the study’s principal investigator. “Resilience is the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity. It’s a valuable skill because it helps students and professionals successfully navigate difficulties and overcome setbacks.”

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, will mix quantitative and qualitative methods to explore the relationships between resilience and academic achievement. Students participating in the study will complete resilience surveys and receive a resilience profile based on their responses. In detailing students’ specific resilience skills ­– such as perseverance, optimism and self-control – this profile may help students play to their strengths and develop strategies for working around their weaknesses. Class discussions will focus on the connections between resilience and academic success.

“We believe students will benefit from better understanding resilience, from becoming more aware of its role in their performance, and from strengthening their resilience skills,” said Carnell.

In addition, the researchers believe findings from the study have the potential to dramatically enhance student and faculty understandings of the importance of professional skills in learning technical material in engineering and other STEM disciplines.

“Practicing engineers are well aware of the importance of professional skills, or soft skills, but it can be hard to communicate this to students,” said Nicola Sochacka, a research scientist in the College of Engineering and a co-investigator. “By connecting professional skills to academic performance in core courses, such as engineering statics, students get to see how professional skills can support the development of technical expertise.”

The project grew out of a collaboration in the Engineering Education Transformations Institute (EETI) in the UGA College of Engineering. EETI is a community of faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduate students pursuing research aimed at improving the educational experience of engineering students.

“This project, which involves faculty members and undergraduate researchers, is a perfect example of how engineering education research at UGA is producing cutting-edge knowledge that directly benefits students in our programs,” said Nathaniel Hunsu, an assistant professor and co-investigator.

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