STEP Final Reflection

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.

STEP Reflection


In the past two weeks, I have made substantial progress on my STEP project.  First, I have successfully interviewed three engineering undergraduate students and gained their insights into how students perceive their intelligence and how they view themselves on the socioeconomic ladder.  More importantly, even with only three interviews finished I am starting to see patterns in how students from different socioeconomic classes view themselves.  To continue, I need to transcribe all the interviews exactly, which for a single hour-long interview can take anywhere from six to nine hours, depending on how quickly the subject speaks.  After these transcriptions are complete, I will use values coding to pull out important attitudes, values, and beliefs in the student and compare them to the other subjects.  In addition to my own project, I have continued to work on Dr. Dringenberg’s larger project involving how engineering undergrads perceive their intelligence.  I have coded multiple interviews done by colleagues at Kansas State University, and will continue to help in any way I can.

As I’ve conducted my project, I can see exactly which parts of the research process I like, and which ones I don’t.  Overall, I can start to see that going down a research path is likely what I will do after I end my undergraduate career.  I can easily see myself creating a thesis for my masters, and taking my skills to research for the private sector.




STEP Project Reflection

Hello, my name is Carter and for my STEP project, I am doing research for the Department of Engineering Education focusing on how the socioeconomic status of students affects how the perceive their own intelligence.  I apologize for starting this so late, but I decided to wait to post my first response until I had approval from OSU’s IRB to conduct my research.  When I first began my project, I was simply assisting Dr. Emily Dringenberg in her research regarding undergraduate engineering student’s beliefs about intelligence in order to improve how undergraduate engineering courses are taught here at Ohio State.  To begin, I was first required to complete training in order to work with human subjects both directly and indirectly.  This occupied almost the entirety of my first week of work, along with reading how to qualitatively code data.  During my second week, my work on my own pilot study began.  I had read an article in The Atlantic recently called “The Birth of the New American Aristocracy,” which revolves around the topic of income inequality.  After reading, I was inspired to include its topics in my pilot study, resulting in my decision to focus on how socioeconomic status affects students’ beliefs about intelligence.  My pilot is also beneficial to Dr. Dringenberg as it is an expansion of the study she currently has underway, and data I collect from my pilot can and will be used in her ongoing study about engineering students beliefs.

To prepare for my IRB submission, I was required to submit multiple documents concerning the protocols for my study, including protocols for recruitment, interviews, data management, and analysis.  My submission was initially rejected on account of the protocol for incentivizing prospective students (part of the recruitment protocol) which resulted in my project being delayed.  After edits to my protocol and a re-submission of my pilot study proposal, the IRB approved my study and has allowed me to start recruiting participants.  As of now, I have multiple prospective students willing to partake in the experience, and my selection of interview subjects will be finalized by the end of the week.

So far, my experience in engineering education has opened a lot of doors for me.  Since this project allows me to see the entire cycle of the research project – from inception to publication – I have a clear view on whether the general experience of researching is a path I want to go down.  So far, my answer is yes.  I enjoy the process and never-ending desire to learn, and I could easily see myself going into a PhD program after my undergraduate experience.  Aside from research, I find the field of education to be very interesting, pushing me in the direction of pursuing a career in academia.  Although while I am interested in education, I don’t think I would like a career solely researching engineering education, but I would love to teach and use the skills I’ve learned so far to research areas in materials science.