New Faculty Member, 2022–23
Assistant Professor, engineering education systems and design
Li Tan began his academic career as a student of industrial engineering. But he soon discovered his interest in data analysis, which led him to doctoral studies in economics with a focus on quantitative methods for educational research.
“Engineering education is a relatively new and exciting field and there is a lot we can learn from more established fields, such as sociology, psychology and economics, in terms of research methods,” says Tan, who is joining the faculty of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University this fall. “This is why I want to apply my research and related skills to help our students.”
Tan says he believes one of the major challenges of engineering education relates to the academic path students follow from an early age. They may begin the formal study of engineering in college, but their interests and aspirations begin much earlier.
“Consequently, inputs from postsecondary institutions alone may not be sufficient to tackle the challenges of this field,” he says. “We may need joint efforts with K-12 schools and other stakeholders, too. In other words, engineering education is a system and it requires system-level design solutions.”
Tan’s research also focuses on academic success among women and racially minoritized groups who are significantly underrepresented in engineering fields.
“There is extensive evidence from the literature showing the benefits of diversity, equity and inclusion,” he says, “so advancing the success of students from all demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds will be central to my research at ASU.”
Tan additionally has a background in teaching first-year engineering programs, in which he emphasizes the importance of data-driven and theory-driven evidence. But he admits that obtaining useful evidence can be challenging.
“This is why data science and quantitative causal inference methods may help us to form better visions and make better decisions to support innovation in both engineering research and practice,” Tan says.
It’s also why he wants his students to come with an open mind and enthusiasm for the EGR 280 Engineering Statistics course he will be teaching this fall. It will be an applications-oriented introduction that uses software to formulate and solve real engineering problems.
When not focused on engineering education, Tan says he enjoys expanding his understanding of the wider world by reading newspaper articles and research papers from academic journals devoted to many different natural and social science fields.
Written by Gary Werner