New NSF grant awarded to study student perceptions of artificial intelligence careers


Kimberly Belser

Bioengineering professor Paul Jensen was awarded a research grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study engineering students’ career perceptions of artificial intelligence (AI).

The research project titled, “Engineering students' outcome expectations for AI careers: an exploratory study”, will investigate how engineering students recognize career opportunities within the field of artificial intelligence. Jensen, along with Julie Martin, associate professor of the Ohio State University's Department of Engineering Education, are particularly interested in observing how a students’ exposure to AI, their identity and demographics shape their views of the field.

“The demand for AI has exploded, far faster than we have been able to create AI-focused training programs for engineers,” Jensen said. This demand highlights a shortage of skilled engineers and the need to create educational pathways for students. “We don't fully understand how to ‘cross-train’ engineers with these new skills. Any time we change a curriculum we need to be careful to not exacerbate disparities in educational access or outcomes.”

This research has a people-centric focus, as opposed to the usual AI studies which focus on technology. “We need to understand why individuals choose to include or exclude AI from their careers. Otherwise, we will never meet the demand for AI-trained engineers,” Jensen said. 

Additionally, Jensen said the grant is exciting because it is a collaboration with Professor Martin who is an expert in qualitative research on broadening participation of underserved groups. The team anticipates that results from this project will lay the groundwork for designing inclusive programs that meet tomorrow’s demands for a skilled AI workforce.