What Story Do You Want to Tell? Developing Empathy in Engineering Students through an Extra-Curricular Narrative Sharing Experience Conference

Lunn, S, Bell-Huff, CL. (2022). What Story Do You Want to Tell? Developing Empathy in Engineering Students through an Extra-Curricular Narrative Sharing Experience .

cited authors

  • Lunn, S; Bell-Huff, CL



  • Empathy is important for interpersonal relations, promoting consideration of the perspectives and needs of others. While engineers are often trained in theoretical principles and technological competencies that will allow them to take rigorous approaches to solving practical problems, engendering empathy can be more challenging and is often neglected. In this work, we describe a multi-institutional, story-driven learning experience established to encourage engineering students to share their tales of growth, identity, and vision. Through synchronous, remote, weekly meetings held over the span of eight weeks, 24 engineering students from five academic institutions were prompted to self-reflect and consider their pathways to and within their discipline. Zaki's framework of empathy served as the guiding lens through which we investigated: 1) How does an eight-week, extra-curricular, story-focused learning program affect students' perceptions and levels of empathy? and 2) How does story-focused pedagogy impact students' interpersonal interactions? Over the course of the program, we explored students' empathy development and their interpersonal interactions using a mixed methods approach. Students completed Davis' Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) at the start and end of the program, along with providing their definitions of empathy. They also completed open-ended responses about the experience. In addition, we conducted semi-structured interviews with the program facilitators to learn more about the interactions they observed within and between groups. While there were no significant quantitative changes in empathy, qualitative analysis illustrated how the program not only encouraged students to develop rich narratives and to gain confidence in speaking, but also spurred them to consider how they could create value for society. The experience served to raise awareness of others' perspectives and allowed them to establish connections as the students shared their stories and reacted to those of others. Apart from detailing a potential pedagogical approach to enhance engineering students' communication skills, the findings also highlight how storytelling can foster empathy. This work is of interest to administrators and faculty looking to integrate different approaches to facilitate personal and professional growth and the expansion of empathy across engineering fields and in society.

publication date

  • August 23, 2022