Purdue University Graduate School
Nusaybah_Dissertation.pdf (1.11 MB)

Impact on Empathy Development of Engineering Undergraduate Students in a Community-Engagement Design Course

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posted on 2022-07-28, 02:07 authored by Nusaybah Abu-MulawehNusaybah Abu-Mulaweh

Empathy is increasingly recognized as a critical skill and disposition for engineering practice. Empathy enhances the ability to understand and connect with the thoughts and feelings of others, which helps engineers design concepts and products that are both innovative and aligned to actual user needs and desires. With increased competition and need to innovate in this global economy, there is a growing need for more empathic engineers and an increasing need for more research in the area to prepare future empathic engineers. Previous research indicates community-engagement as a pedagogical approach that provides a context for empathic development. Understanding how empathy changes through a community-engaged design experience can inform the development of a wide range of design and community-engagement experiences. Therefore, this dissertation sought a deeper understanding of the impact of community-engaged design learning on empathic growth and the factors that contribute to that growth for engineering undergraduate students. The study employed a sequential explanatory mixed methods design focused on the empathic development of students enrolled in a community-engaged design course. In the first phase, empathic development was assessed using pre- and post-data collection of empathy and community partner interaction surveys. In the second qualitative phase, semi-structured interviews were conducted with students to build on the results from the quantitative phase and provide insights into the empathic development and import of community relationships identified therein. This study defined empathy as a tripartite phenomenon comprised of the (1) affective dimension emphasizing feelings of concern for another, (2) cognitive dimension emphasizing knowing what another is feeling, and (3) behavioral dimension emphasizing the act of responding based on the cognitive and affective experience. The results highlighted students engaging in how they empathized by showing concern/sympathy—affective dimension—and took the perspective of users –cognitive dimension—in order to understand and make informed design decisions for their projects –behavioral dimension. The quantitative phase did not find any statistically significant practical changes for the overall population. However, based on interviews of students who increased in all three constructs—empathic concern, perspective taking, and interpersonal self-efficacy, which served as proxies for the affective, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions of empathy, empathy manifested and developed due to different factors. These factors included impactful experiences, leadership positions, long-term participation and diverse team members. The results also highlighted prior experiences and overestimating as factors that students attributed for their high pre-test scores in interpersonal self-efficacy.  


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

William Oakes

Additional Committee Member 2

Justin Hess

Additional Committee Member 3

Leah Jamieson

Additional Committee Member 4

Brent Jesiek

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