Cutler receives NSF grant to advance engineering education research

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Stephanie Cutler, assessment and instructional support specialist for the Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education in Penn State's College of Engineering, has been awarded funding from the National Science Foundation to advance engineering education research through peer review analysis.

Since engineering education research is an emerging field, research is needed to define how the parameters of the field are created and sustained.

“This grant is really about setting a baseline and getting started in examining engineering education research through peer review,” said Cutler. “We’re hoping to start a productive conversation about peer review and make it a more effective experience for researchers.”

She explains, “When you think about what the peer review process is, it is part of how engineering education research as a whole accepts new information into the field and the standards and norms of quality research. This grant will help to articulate these norms and how they are viewed by different members of the field.”

Cutler and co-principal investigator Kacey Beddoes, assistant professor of sociology at UMass Lowell, as well as a graduate student, will conduct comprehensive qualitative interviews with 40 authors who have had articles published and/or rejected and at least a handful of editors of the Journal of Engineering Education.

“We’re going to be talking to a lot of people within engineering education research and really digging into how they view the field, and how that’s exemplified (or not) by the peer review process,” said Cutler. “I’m sure most researchers have experienced conflicting reviews, overly harsh reviews, the ‘you didn’t cite me’ review, and a lot of different feedback that isn’t necessarily provided to help improve the research being presented for review or to accept better research into the field. We’re hoping by identifying some of the unspoken norms of engineering education research, those in the field can examine and potentially change them.”

Common responses in regards to experiences and beliefs will be used to determine theoretical, methodological, epistemological and topical normatives that shape the field. Findings from the interviews will be shared with current and future engineering education researchers via workshops that will help the engineering research community critically reflect on and advance the field.

A member of the Leonhard Center since August 2015, Cutler received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as a master of science degree in industrial and systems engineering and a doctorate in engineering education from Virginia Tech.

“My Ph.D. is in engineering education, and from my first visit to my graduate department, I knew this was the field for me,” said Cutler. “Over the last almost 10 years, I have watched the field develop and change. I’m really excited to be part of this project that could help guide future changes.”

The Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education’s mission is to catalyze the changes that are crucial to maintaining world-class engineering education at Penn State. The center’s initiatives focus on the enhancement of courses and curricula as well as assessment of the effectiveness of innovations.

Last Updated March 28, 2018