Dynamic interactions of neurological states

Reflections on implications for learning engineering

  • Linda Vanasupa Professor, Materials Engineering, California Polytechnic State University
  • Nicola Sochacka Associate Director, Engineering Education Transformations Institute, University of Georgia
  • Ruth Streveler Professor, School of Engineering Education, Purdue University



Point of view: Each of the creators are university researcher/professors of engineering; Linda is Eurasian/Latina and transgender, with a background in metallurgical engineering and materials science and engineering acquired in United States institutions; Nicola is a cis-gender woman, with a background in environmental engineering and educational research, who moved to the U.S. from Australia after completing her doctoral studies. Ruth is a cis-gender woman, born and raised in the U.S., of Western-European ancestry, with an educational background in biology and educational psychology. Although these identities do not represent the totality of what has shaped our view, we believe they have strongly influenced our experience of the field of engineering.


Value of submission: This piece raises what we believe are important questions about our current education for engineers that are arising from the implications of recent neuroscience findings.


According to the National Society of Professional Engineers’ (NSPE) creed, engineers are members of a profession who “dedicate [their] professional knowledge and skill to the advancement and betterment of human welfare.” Although the educational process of developing one’s engineering cognition has regional differences, by and large it derives from a core content that requires mechanical reasoning about the physical world. Results emerging from cognitive neuroscience imply that regions of the brain that function for mechanical reasoning have antagonistic relationships with regions that are active during moral and social reasoning, and vice versa. Their findings raise important questions for engineering education: How are we ensuring the balanced cognitive development necessary for the essential social and moral reasoning required of our profession? Can integrating Phenomenal activities with Physical activities serve holistic developmental aims? Can we envision integrative alternatives to present incarnations of engineering curricula? The intent of this paper is to offer reflections and speculations on the implications of these emerging neuroscientific findings on the dynamics of brain functioning for learning engineering.