As a regular attendee at the American Society for Engineering Education Conference, Dr. Wilson has always had a passion for scholarship in teaching, which she actively shares with other faculty within her department, college and through national conferences (AIChE). Through these conferences, she has developed a passion for research in engineering education, with a research focus in three target areas.
Research Focus 1: Promoting help-seeking in engineering students experiencing mental health distress
Dr. Wilson received an NSF Research Initiation for Engineering Formation (RIEF) grant to student mental health related help-seeking beliefs in undergraduate engineering students. The project is in collaboration with two colleagues, Joseph Hammer from Counseling Psychology and Ellen Usher from Educational Psychology. The prevalence of mental health problems on college campuses is of increasing concern. While the issue is not unique to the engineering student population, national data show that engineering students are significantly less likely than other students to seek professional help. To better understand the root cause of this problem, the project will identify the beliefs that influence engineering students’ decisions to seek or not seek help for a mental health concern. To accomplish this, engineering undergraduate students are currently being interviewed to understand their beliefs and feelings related to mental health related help-seeking. Data from this qualitative study will be used to develop a survey to measure the beliefs that affect engineering undergraduate students’ decisions to seek help. Through identifying those beliefs that are predictive of help-seeking, interventions can be developed to change student beliefs and increase help-seeking in at-risk engineering students. Increased willingness to seek help could improve individuals’ mental health through college and beyond, resulting in a more resilient and persistent engineering workforce.
Research Focus 2: Understanding and supporting students experiencing imposter phenomenon
Imposter phenomenon was first characterized in high achieving women during the late 1970s but has since been found across a wide variety of populations and identities. Dr. Wilson has worked to characterize the prevalence of imposter phenomenon in undergraduate and graduate students at her institution. Richard Felder first drew attention to imposter phenomenon in chemical engineering students through an article published in Chemical Engineering Education in 1988. Dr. Wilson has worked to characterize the frequency of imposter phenomenon in chemical engineering undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Kentucky and found that 75% of the students surveyed had frequent or intense feelings of imposter syndrome. These results motivate further work to better understand and support students experiencing imposter phenomenon through their undergraduate and graduate careers.
Research Focus 3: Identifying and developing interventions to overcome communication barriers
In collaboration with Dr. Renee Kaufmann (Information Communication Technology), Dr. Wilson has worked to characterize the diverse communication skills required of engineers after graduation. She has surveyed post-graduation engineers with careers in industry and academia to better understand the importance of communication to different audiences (e.g., technical, non-technical, business), and through different modes of communication (e.g., formal presentation, formal report, informal meetings), as well as gaps in communication that exist after graduation. A similar study was performed with students after completion of an industrial internship. With these data, she has created a training workshop for students leaving on internships to address the engineering communication barriers identified through the surveys, such as training in communication to non-technical audiences and informal communication. This workshop has been offered to students both in-person and online. Data are being gathered to support the expansion of the program to support a broader span of the engineering student body. Future work is targeted at developing strategies for addressing these communication barriers within the curriculum and introducing students to the professional skills required for the formation of engineers that will thrive as leaders in interdisciplinary workforces.