Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Civil Engineering


Klotz, Leidy E

Committee Member

Ogle , Jennifer

Committee Member

Putman , Bradley

Committee Member

Chowdhury , Mashrur

Committee Member

Harding , Daniel


The need for more engineers equipped with new skill sets is essential for ensuring our national security, climate sustainability, and maintaining our position as a global leader in innovation and as an economic world power. The design challenges engineers face increasingly require a human-centered, creative, practical, and systems-based approach to find the most elegant solutions; i.e. they require design thinkers. According to Tim Brown of IDEO, the characteristics that distinguish design thinkers include: 'empathy--they imagine the world from multiple perspectives, integrative thinking--they can analyze at a detailed and holistic level to develop novel solutions, optimism--they don't back down from challenging problems, experimentalism--they ask questions and take new approaches to problem solving, and collaboration--they work with many different disciplines and often have experience in more than just one field.'
This research builds on these ideas by developing and testing measures of design thinking, characterizing design thinkers (e.g. what are their demographics, career goals, interests), and comparing design thinkers with non-design thinkers. The Sustainability and Gender in Engineering (SaGE) survey, administered to a nationally representative sample of college freshman (N=6,772), covered a variety of topics related to sustainability, whole systems design, career goals, high school experiences with math and science, and student demographics. Ultimately 9 items from the survey were selected for inclusion in the design thinking scale. Design thinkers were characterized and compared using basic statistics, Mann-Whitney U tests, chi-square tests, and multiple linear regression modeling.
The study found that design thinkers are a diverse group of high achieving students that see their career as an opportunity to positively impact the world. Design thinkers cited helping others, being able to create and invent, and making use of their talents and abilities as more important to their career satisfaction. They are systems thinkers that see the interconnectivity of things, not viewing themselves as separate from nature, but a part of it. Design thinkers are concerned and interested in tackling the economic, environmental, and social sustainability challenges our society is facing. And they believe that engineers play an important and altruistic role in the world by saving lives, protecting the environment, and addressing societal concerns. Design thinkers are precisely what we need more of in engineering and science--they want to save the world. Educators, policy makers, and concerned citizens take note. These findings show valuable leverage points for broadening participation in engineering and creating a more resilient and innovative engineering workforce.