The National Science Foundation is spending roughly $150,000 to make college engineering programs "inclusive" to LGBT students.
Researchers who were awarded money for a new study this month will hold focus groups with lesbian and gay students in Massachusetts to learn how engineering culture can be changed to make LGBT students "feel comfortable."
"This project aims to understand the conditions that help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) engineering students feel comfortable in their educational institutions," a grant for the project states. "Engineering schools are notoriously inhospitable to LGBTQ people, with costly results for LGBTQ students and society."
Researchers at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute say that engineering programs full of straight students are "less creative."
"The emotional toll of being an LGBTQ engineer (either open or closeted) is so great that it threatens to drive LGBTQ engineers out of the field," the grant states. "Their departure from engineering for reasons that have nothing to do with qualification only makes the field more homogenous and therefore less creative, innovative, and risk-taking, at the same time diminishing a population that is already underrepresented in engineering."
The study will begin in January and is slated to continue through December 2018. The project has cost taxpayers $149,921 so far.
The researchers say that not enough study has been dedicated to how LGBT engineering students feel.
"While researchers understand the conventions of engineering culture that can damage non-heterosexual engineering students and engineers, they still know very little about how engineering cultures can support these same engineers," the grant states.
Interviews and focus groups with LGBT students will be held in order to identify the "elements of the most inclusive and supportive spaces" in engineering programs.
"In identifying those experiences, opportunities, and practices that are most supportive of LGBTQ engineering students, the research is also identifying the same experiences that help develop the emotional intelligence and cross-cultural sensitivity and communication that will support all engineers, including but not exclusively other underrepresented populations," the grant said. "Using the principle of universal design, this project is piloting educational interventions to support all forms of diversity in engineering education."