Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

Committee Chair(s)

Idalis Villanueva


Idalis Villanueva


Angela Minichiello


Wade Goodridge


Suzanne Jones


Ann M. Berghout Austin


In order to address the increasingly complex challenges of the 21st century, there is a need to continue to grow the technical workforce by improving graduation rates of engineering students. To accomplish this, the culture of engineering programs must shift from demanding or intimidating to more inclusive and supportive. Professors can play a critical role in creating these cultures by building relationships with students. Empathic concern is essential in building relationships that can encourage student growth and development. This form of empathy, sometimes referred to as care or concern, is expressed through actions of understanding, compassion, and non-judgement. While research on empathic concern or care in education is common, there is limited research on the use of empathic concern as a teaching practice in engineering programs.

The purpose of this study is to utilize undergraduate student experiences as a means of exploring how professors in engineering programs currently use empathic concern. Analysis of interviews with 27 engineering students (13 women and 14 men, which included 4 first generation, 1 Latinx and 1 student of Asian descent) at a large western university suggests that professors express all components of empathic concern (understanding, compassion, and non-judgement). In addition, students described eight distinct experiences of empathic concern expressed by engineering professors, including professors who are committed to helping students succeed and professors who create a safe space for asking questions. These experiences can be grouped into three fundamental ways professors can express empathic concern towards students including: (1) expressing care for students as individuals; (2) cultivating student learning; and (3) acknowledging the challenges of engineering education. By understanding and incorporating these experiences of empathic concern into their teaching practice, engineering professors could improve engineering students’ educational experiences and help further students’ persistence to graduation.