Across Campus and Beyond: A Promising Practice to Increase Conversations about Neurodiversity in the Engineering Classroom

The Neurodiversity in the Engineering Classroom project brought together an interdisciplinary group from across the Purdue University campus and at a partner school in order to:

  1. identify subject matter experts in and around neurodiversity and engineering,
  2. identify campus needs and opportunities, and
  3. explore opportunities to synergize individual missions and research interests to improve the quality of education for neurodiverse students in postsecondary education generally, and in the school of engineering specifically.

This project partnership brought together experts in neurodiversity and engineering education who were potentially interested in pedagogical approaches for improved learning/retention, learning styles, neuroscience based complex problem solving and creativity, and related topics. To begin this effort, College of Engineering project leaders recruited a partner with expertise in neurodiversity from a research center for autism. Collaborations were also formed with experts beyond the university including local healthcare professionals and researchers and practitioners at a partner university.

Through organizing meetings, project leaders focused the group’s energy, time and talent on identifying specific opportunities for local impact. From brainstorming emerged a list of ideas that were ultimately honed down to key action items on which to focus more intense efforts. Effort was also taken to engage high-level administrators who work on topics related to equity to ensure neurodiversity was included in larger conversations related to diversity.

The following actions were made as a result of the collaboration.

  • An email group was established to serve as a central location for discussion on topics related to their goals.
  • Formal and informal presentations on neurodiversity were given to audiences ranging from First-Year Student Advising offices to specific faculty groups and school administrators. These best practices were shared with a partner university so that they could be deployed there as well.
  • The working group became a source of expertise for high-level administrators to tap into.
  • Neurodiversity will be included as an aspect of diversity in the College of Engineering’s orientation program.
  • The College of Engineering will add presentation time in associate orientation events for a representative from the Disability Resource Center.
  • The project opened doors to collaborative research, including co-advising a Ph.D. student focused on neurodiversity in engineering education.

Neurodiversity in the Engineering Classroom is a promising practice for engaging a diverse collaborative team to initiate conversations about neurodiversity in engineering. By bringing together individuals in a variety of backgrounds with a common interest, the project was able to effectively work across disciplinary boundaries, engage administrators, and involve other universities to start partnerships that can continue to work together to improve postsecondary education for neurodiverse student bodies.

This promising practice was funded in part by an AccessEngineering minigrant. For additional resources and information on increasing the participation of people with disabilities in engineering academic programs and careers visit AccessEngineering.