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The Effects of the Undergraduate Curriculum and Individual Differences on Student Innovation Capabilities

[+] Author Affiliations
Trina C. Kershaw, Adam P. Young, Sankha Bhowmick, Molly A. McCarthy

University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, MA

Carolyn Conner Seepersad, Paul T. Williams

University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

Katja Hölttä-Otto

Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore, Singapore

Paper No. DETC2014-35540, pp. V003T04A005; 12 pages
  • ASME 2014 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 3: 16th International Conference on Advanced Vehicle Technologies; 11th International Conference on Design Education; 7th Frontiers in Biomedical Devices
  • Buffalo, New York, USA, August 17–20, 2014
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4634-6
  • Copyright © 2014 by ASME


Innovation is considered a key to competitiveness of the nation. In order to ensure that graduating students are equipped with innovation skills to meet this challenge, we must ensure that engineering curricula are enhancing students’ innovation capabilities. In this paper we investigate if the undergraduate engineering curriculum can have a significant positive effect on students’ innovation capabilities. In addition, we investigate if individual difference factors, such as engineering design self-efficacy and self-reported GPA, can be correlated with innovation capabilities. To test this, we assessed students’ solutions to specific open ended problems for their level of innovation, or more specifically, originality and technical feasibility. The experiments were replicated at two universities and with a variety of cohorts, including freshman students before and after an introductory engineering course and senior mechanical engineering students before and after a capstone course. We found that that students’ innovation capabilities were enhanced by the senior-level capstone course at both universities. Similar positive results can be found for the overall four year curriculum at both schools. While individual differences in academic performance and engineering design self-efficacy did not predict seniors’ performance, these individual difference factors did interact to influence originality in the freshmen students. At high levels of GPA, increased self-efficacy led to increased originality, but at low levels of GPA, increased self-efficacy led to lower originality scores. Results are discussed in relation to prior research and suggestions are made to track freshmen students to better train future engineers.

Copyright © 2014 by ASME



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