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Cognitive Empathy in Design Course for a More Inclusive Mechanical Engineering

[+] Author Affiliations
Kathleen Wong (Lau), Rebecca L. Norris, Zahed Siddique, M. Cengiz Altan, James Baldwin, Wilson Merchan-Merchan

University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

Paper No. DETC2016-60382, pp. V003T04A005; 10 pages
  • ASME 2016 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 3: 18th International Conference on Advanced Vehicle Technologies; 13th International Conference on Design Education; 9th Frontiers in Biomedical Devices
  • Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, August 21–24, 2016
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division, Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5013-8
  • Copyright © 2016 by ASME


Cognitive Empathy, often referred to as perspective taking, refers to the ability to identify and understand details about another’s experience so that one can understand why people may think and feel the way that they do. In recent years the need for designers to develop Cognitive Empathy skills has been recognized and has given rise to human-centered design and empathic design. Many mechanical engineering and design departments offer courses and have programs in these emerging topics. Mechanical engineers need to have basic understanding of Cognitive Empathy to function in today’s workplace. In addition, most mechanical engineering undergraduate programs do not have a diverse student body representative of the general population. Although there are many reasons, we believe that having a welcoming, inclusive environment is a precursor to improving diversity and thus should be an important consideration in mechanical engineering education. We propose that introducing carefully designed training on Cognitive Empathy in design courses could result in (i) a more welcoming and inclusive environment and (ii) a new generation of designers better equipped to consider the users. In this paper we present an “Intercultural Cognitive Empathy” training that was given to all mechanical engineering seniors at the University of Oklahoma to create a more inclusive environment. The students in a senior design course received the training at the beginning of the semester, before forming their design teams, so that they could use the skills to better communicate with each other. Cognitive Empathy research provided the foundation for the training and intercultural active learning components were also integrated. A student survey, done at the end of the semester, showed that students retained and used different components of the training throughout the semester. The assessment strongly suggests that this training should be part of the regular curriculum.

Copyright © 2016 by ASME



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