Name: Carter Morris
Type of Project: Undergraduate Research Experience
My STEP signature project was an undergraduate research experience in the Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering at Ohio State. In this project, I became acquainted with qualitative research methods in order to complete my own pilot study: Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Beliefs About Intelligence, and the Role of Socioeconomic Status in Belief Formation.
Through this project, I became much more open-minded regarding my views on how students around me learn. My research focused on a theory called Mindset popularized by Dr. Carol Dweck. In this theory, Dweck argues that people think of their intelligence (as well as other aspects of themselves) typically in one of two ways: that intelligence is an innate characteristic about ourselves that cannot be changed – you are simply “born smart,” or that intelligence is a skill, and, like other skills can, be developed over time. At the start of this experience, I would have been much more likely to think of others – and myself – as having a fixed intelligence.
By reading different students’ interviews and learning how they think of their own intelligence, interviewing students myself for my pilot study, and reading theory on mindset, I learned how people’s intelligence is largely dependent on their environment and any previous exposure. This has allowed me to take a more open-minded approach to thinking about how other people succeed and how I succeed.
An event that lead me to this transformation was my interview with one of my participants: Beatrice (a pseudonym). In the interview, I asked Beatrice various questions about what she thought of her intelligence, including questions about her response to challenges, her motivations, and her views on effort. Throughout the interview, Beatrice’s responses indicated that she had a strong inclination to think of her intelligence as a fixed trait, but in post analysis, I saw that this belief was something that Beatrice constructed through years of social training.
Beatrice was extremely honest in her responses. At one point, she admitted that being raised in an upper-class community and attending schools that were regarded as the region’s best had conditioned her to believe that she had a natural advantage of other people. In other words, being surrounded by people regarded as successful had convinced Beatrice that she was also successful. This explanation revealed to me that, although Beatrice exhibited traits so clearly aligned with a fixed mindset perspective, those traits and those beliefs grew, they were not inert.
Recognizing that the beliefs Beatrice holds were constructed by the world around her helped me to realize that mine were too. If Beatrice’s upbringing led her to believe that her intelligence was innate, how did my upbringings influence my own beliefs? I have started to ask this question when thinking about all my beliefs, not just those I hold about intelligence, and by doing so I have felt myself grow into a more introspective person. And by questioning my own beliefs, I find it easier to accept others’, making me a more open, welcoming person all around.
This change matters in so many different aspects of life that are all interconnected. Being a more open-minded person will lead to me developing more friendships and stronger connections, and learning how to continuously question my beliefs will allow me to better cope with that changes that will be unexpectedly thrown at me all too often in life. While I initially thought this experience would help me decided between using my degree to go into industry or academia (a question it did not definitively answer), it has given me so much more. Using what I’ve learned I can confidently define and change aspects of myself that I do not like, which will make me a more confident individual and ultimately help me to achieve my goals.