Science & Technology

NSF CAREER: Including People With Disabilities in Engineering

By Sydney Dahle |

Cassandra McCall received $900K in funding for her research with the National Science Foundation. Her work in engineering education aims to uncover the often-invisible barriers that students with disabilities face as well as ways to better the teaching of engineering altogether.

When you think of engineering, you might picture the basics — heavy math and equations, complex bridges or electrical systems, even rockets and gears. But have you ever thought of using rhetoric for engineering research?

Utah State University Assistant Professor Cassandra McCall is changing the way we think of engineering. Her work aims to uncover the often-invisible barriers that students with disabilities face using rhetoric to observe how language, stereotypes and assumptions contribute to exclusion.

McCall was awarded the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation, given to early career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to advance research in their areas. McCall, who began teaching at USU in 2020, will receive a little under $600,000 for the advancement of her research.

“This award will give me the chance to perform my research at a wider scale,” she said. “I am thankful for all the help, advice and encouragement I received along the way to get to this point.”

For her work with CAREER specifically, McCall will interview and analyze 60 engineering students, faculty and administrators to identify key issues and solutions to assist engineering students with disabilities.

“In this project, engineering higher education is reconceptualized as an ecosystem that is both a source and an outcome of inequities located at different institutional levels,” she said. “This concept repositions the attitudes, behaviors and practices of individual actors not as separate events and objects, but as a network of collective opportunity toward improved support.”

Additionally, McCall was awarded roughly $300,000 from NSF for a project that aims to explore how disruptive technologies like ChatGPT are changing the landscape of engineering education. These technologies are deemed "disruptive" because they can fundamentally alter how teaching and learning occur, even if their impacts are still uncertain.

Research partners include Wade Goodridge and Oenardi Lawanto, faculty in the USU Engineering Education Department. The two-part project will examine reasons why undergraduate engineering students choose to use or avoid ChatGPT and the perception and use of ChatGPT to aid in learning.

The goal is to gain insights into how these tools can be proactively integrated into engineering education to enhance learning and student agency.

“By shedding light on this underexplored area, we hope to foster a new community of practice focused on proactive use of disruptive technologies in education, ultimately contributing to more dynamic and inclusive engineering education,” McCall said. “This research is expected to pave the way for future studies on the use of such technologies among different student groups and could inform industry practices for career training.”


Sydney Dahle
Public Relations Specialist
College of Engineering


Cassandra McCall
Assistant Professor
Department of Engineering Education


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